The North West 200 gets underway today with the opening practice sessions for the Supersport, Superbike, Supertwin and Superstock categories. It has been a long three year wait for participants and fans alike with so much racing lost through the COVID plague years.
Over 100,000 spectators are expected to attend where they will witness Superbikes racing on the roads at speeds approaching 340 km/h (210 mph).
For many the North West 200 is the important final lead in event ahead of their attendance at the Isle of Man TT, for some others however their road race campaign for 2022 will be the North West 200 only.Two of those riders are high profile entrants Josh Brookes and Jeremy McWilliams.
After Michael Dunlop pulled out of the Paul Bird Motorsport Ducati deal to ride the NW200 and IOMTT on the Panigale V4 R, the team put their regular BSB rider Josh Brookes in the hot seat for the North West, but they have no plans to contest the TT.
Michael Dunlop, so often the one to make last minute changes or cause controversy, will instead contest the Superstock class on the MD Racing Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade, the Supersport classes on the MD Racing Yamaha YZF-R6, and the Supertwin classes on the MD Racing Paton S1R.In the Superbike class Dunlop will ride a Hawk Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000R after securing a last minute deal.
“It has been one of those situations where I have had to go back to someone I can trust. Stuart has always said to call him if I needed anything. I made the call and they have built this Suzuki for me. Steve and Stuart might not have the biggest budget in the world but they always give 100 per cent and that is all you can ask for.”
Dunlop won the Senior TT on a Hawk Racing built Suzuki in 2017. He previously rode for the Hicken owned team in 2014, 2015 and 2016 on BMW machinery.
Hawk Racing’s Steve Hicken
“Everyone else has had three years to prepare for this week but we have had just three days.” Steve Hicken joked. “It is just another one of those deals that happens between Hawk and Michael, but if you win five TTs with someone there is a respect so let’s see what we can do now.”
The Bedfordshire-based double BSB champion made his debut at the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT in 2013 where he was the fastest newcomer on a Tyco Suzuki before setting a new outright Superbike lap record the following year on his way to second place on a Yamaha. Brookes also scored a Supersport podium the same year too.
Paul Bird’s team has a good record at the event which includes Glenn Irwin winning three of his last four Superbike races on a PBM Ducati so Brookes will be hoping to add another piece of silverware to Britain’s most successful motorcycle racing team’s trophy cabinet.
“The question everyone is asking is just how competitive the MCE Ducati will be around the NW200 track and that’s a question I can’t answer until I’ve ridden it. But I have no reasons to believe we can’t do well, or really well in fact. The Ducati is known to be fast and although we are missing a couple of tenths in BSB, I don’t think that will be a problem with the very nature of the event. I’ve every confidence in the bike and the team, and although I’ve not ridden there since 2014, remember I nearly won the Superbike race and set a new lap record at the time. So, our expectations are high and I’m really looking forward to it and seeing the fans back after the past couple of years. I spent a lot of years living over in Northern Ireland so it will be good to see some familiar faces and hopefully the weather will be kind and we can get all the planned track time in.”
Brookes will only be contesting the North West 200, there are no plans for him or the MCE Ducati Racing Team to compete at this year’s Isle of Man TT Races.
Another rider that will only contest the NW200, and not venture to the Isle of Man is Jeremy McWilliams.The 58-year-old Ulsterman will ride a Paton in the SuperTwins category and contest the Supersport class on a Burrows Engineering/RK Racing Yamaha R6.The Supersport ride was a late call up for the former MotoGP star, who raced a Mar-Train Yamaha in the 600cc class at the north coast event in 2016, to replace the injured Mike Browne this year. The Cork man’s NW200 debut stalled after he broke both of his ankles in a crash at the Cookstown 100.
Honda has a big presence in 2022 with John McGuinness returning the Fireblade fold alongside BSB star Glenn Irwin.Leading the charge on the Fireblade SP is four-time Superbike race winner Glenn, who arrives at the 8.9-mile circuit in good spirits after a successful opening British Superbike campaign, where at the opening round he took all three race wins.
Referring to the NW200 as his ‘back garden’, the circuit not only holds happy racing memories for the Irishman, who took his first Superbike victory in 2017, but also personal memories from when his father raced there and attending the event as a youngster. With four wins already under his belt, Glenn is looking to add to his tally aboard the Fireblade in both the Superbike and Superstock races running the #1 plate.
“Finally, it’s here! My road racing debut with Honda Racing UK and there’s no better place for it than the North West 200. It’s somewhere I have missed these last few years and I think everyone in road racing, whether in Ireland or further afield has missed it, so there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of happy memories for me here. I think a lot of that excitement is the potential we have to achieve good results, we’re on a four-race win streak on the Superbike and that’s my main objective. That being said I’m looking forward to riding the Stock 1000ccFireblade, I’ve never raced the Honda stock Fireblade so I’m looking forward to racing that, but the main objective is to come away with a Superbike win.”
Lining up beside Irwin is TT legend, and six-time NW200 winner McGuinness. In preparation for the international road races, John has been in action at the first two rounds of BSB in the Pirelli National Superstock class, as well as enjoying a successful test at Castle Combe.
Running the #2 plate, John will be taking part in the Superbike and Superstock classes with Honda Racing UK, as well the Supersport races aboard the SMT/Blue Earth Construction Honda.
“I’m super excited for this week and getting back to the North West 200 after a few years away, my first year was ’94 which was 28 years ago and the excitement is still the same now and being back with Honda it’s like putting on an old pair of slippers. The Fireblade is great, pre-season testing has gone well and I’m in a good place. My teammate Glenn is the hotshot at the NW200, so if we can get anywhere near him, we’ll be going alright! Win, lose or draw I’m looking forward to the races, it’s great to have everyone back together on the road racing scene, and I hope everyone has a good, safe and successful North West.”
Spearheading the FHO Racing BMW team’s charge is Peter Hickman, who returns to the 8.9mile closed-roads triangle looking to add to his tally of wins.
“I genuinely can’t wait for the North West 200 to begin, it’s been such a frustrating couple of years with no road racing but finally we’re here, we’re back and it’s all systems go at long last. As a rider I’ve been as busy as ever with British Superbikes but both myself and the team have been itching to get back to the roads for two years and we’re finally here which is fantastic. I love the North West 200, it’s a brilliant event and I am really looking forward to showcasing the FHO Racing BMW on one of the best roads courses in the world. I’m ready, the team is ready – let’s have a fantastic week.”
Also joining the FHO Racing BMW fold for race week is Brian McCormack. The former Irish Superbike champion returns to the North West for the first time in a decade.
“After 10 years away from the North West 200 it’s going to be brilliant to be back out there giving the Roadhouse Macau BMW a run ahead of the TT. I’ve always loved this event and I’m excited to be back. Coming to the North West with a team so highly-regarded as FHO is fantastic and it’s a great opportunity for me. I really enjoy being part of the squad, they’re a very supportive and skilled crew and I am excited about the week ahead.”
The man that has run Hickman closest at the TT in recent years, and won the Senior TT last time out, is Dean Harrison.The Silicone Engineering Racing squad he races with is much the same but is now known as DAO Racing. Harrison has been getting up to speed with appearances in recent British Superbike rounds as he prepares for his assault on the roads.
Alastair Seeley, the North West 200’s most successful racer, will compete on a trio of IFS Racing Yamahas in the Supersport, Superstock and Superbike classes.The 24 times winner around the famous 8.9 mile Triangle circuit secured the 2021 Ulster Superbike and Supersport championships with Graeme Hanna’s team.
Now recovered from the blood disorder that left him fatigued and in pain last season, Ashcourt Racing star Lee Johnston is fired up for the new roads campaign. He may not have enjoyed much between the hedges action since winning the opening Supersport race at the 2019 North West but the Yorkshire-based Fermanagh man kept his reactions razor sharp competing in the British Supersport championship. Johnston finished third in the British series in 2021 after claiming two race wins on the same R6 Yamaha he will ride in the 600cc races at the NW200. One of the North West’s most experienced competitors with four race victories on his CV since making his debut in 2008, the 32 year old doesn’t feel the recent short circuit experience will provide a significant advantage on the roads.
“I don’t think it will because all of the other main people, like Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison, are racing in the British championships too.” Johnston explained.“And I don’t think it will make much difference that we haven’t been racing at the North West for the past two years either. If the weather is good on Thursday and Saturday then lap records will be broken because the people racing at the front will be fired up and want to win.”
Johnston will be covering a full quota of classes in 2022, competing on S1000RR BMWs in the Superbike and Superstock races alongside his Supersport outings. He has also acquired one of the new Aprilia 660 machines for the Supertwin events.
Three-time North West 200 winner, Ian Hutchinson, returns on a TAS Racing prepared Milwaukee BMW. The Yorkshireman, who is rejoining the Moneymore-based squad he last raced with in 2017, rode the M1000RR BMW to a 9th place finish during the opening round of the British Superstock championship at Silverstone as part of his preparatios. The 42 year old has enjoyed North West success with Philip and Hector Neill’s TAS team, winning the 2016 Superstock race on a Tyco liveried BMW. He cemented the partnership with a Superbike and Superstock double at the following year’s TT on the team’s BMWs.
TAS Team Boss – Philip Neill
“The Milwaukee BMW Motorrad colours are new for this year but the TAS Racing team remains the same. Hutchy will have enjoyed some bike time in BSB before we arrive at the event, which is key for him. As I have said many times before, the NW200 has always been one of my favourite events and we are extremely proud of our success over the years. So fingers crossed we can add to that success.”
Hutchinson, who won his first race at the North West 200 in the Supersport class during 2006 with another Northern Ireland based team, McAdoo Kawasaki, will also race a YZF R6 Yamaha in the livery of the Portadown-based Boyce Precision Engineering by Russell Racing at this year’s event.
James Hillier will also be expected to star but after David Johnson was ruled out through injury he is expected to be the sole representative for the Rich Energy OMG Racing Yamaha squad. The team have proven they have the tools to do the job with their BSB riders running up front so Hillier should have proven tools at his disposal to do the job.
Clive Padgett’s Milenco Honda squad will be hoping for a repeat of their winning performance at the 2019 fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 when the Yorkshire based team hits the track this week.
Davey Todd claimed his first major road race win at the 2019 event in the team’s colours aboard a CBR600RR Honda in the Saturday Supersport race. Todd’s 2019 deal with Padgett’s limited him to the 600cc class but that North West performance helped him secure a full-time ride with the squad as teammate to Manxman, Conor Cummins.
“Davey and Conor will race at this year’s North West in the Supersport, Superstock and Superbike classes on Fireblades and CBR600RRs.” Padgett explained as the team enjoyed its first test session of the new season at Snetterton last weekend. Todd will also campaign a Fireblade in the British Superstock championship alongside the team’s new Scottish recruit, Lewis Rollo.
Sadly, Padgett also confirmed that 51 year old Bruce Anstey won’t be racing at Portrush during 2022. A battle with cancer forced the ten times North West winner to miss the 2018 season before he bounced back to win the 250cc race at the 2019 Classic TT. Padgett is confident the new Honda superbike will allow his riders to be more competitive around the 8.9 mile Triangle course, and Cummins agrees that the latest version of the Fireblade will provide a power boost.
“The new bike will contribute massively but the rest has to come from me.” the 35 year old said as he dismissed suggestions that a three year lay off from the major road races will have a detrimental impact on lap times. “I know what the competition has done and I know what I need to do to deliver but I don’t think the break will have much of an impact.Everyone has been racing at a competitive level.”
Richard Cooper, the leading newcomer at the fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 in 2019, will return to the north coast event on an impressive line-up of machinery. Cooper finished an impressive second in the CP Hire Superstock race on his first appearance three years ago, will compete in this year’s Superstock and Superbike classes on a pair of Buildbase Suzukis.
The 39 year old will also make his debut on a Supertwin machine on a JMcC Roofing Kawasaki. The Ryan Farquhar-prepared ER6 was the machine Jeremy McWilliams had initially been posted to ride before his recent defection to the IFS Racing/Bayview Paton.
Former BSB star James Ellison, a runner-up in the BSB series in 2009, headlines a list of newcomers.The 41 year old, who has also successfully competed in MotoGP, World Endurance and AMA racing, will return to make his first appearance between the hedges on May 8-14.
Ellison last raced in the Le Mans 24 Hour event during 2020 but he has been keeping his hand in teaching during track days. In May he will ride a Hawk Racing prepared superbike spec’ GSX-R1000RR Powerslide Suzuki in both Superbike events.
Ellison will share a garage on the coast road circuit with Brad Clarke who will also make his North West debut. Ellison is the manager of Clarke’s Powerslide Suzuki BSB squad. A former British Superstock championship runner, the 40 year old will ride a GSXR Suzuki in the stocker events in May.
Cookstown’s Gary McCoy was the only rider to beat Alastair Seeley during the 2021 USBK Supersport series, and will ride a Ryan Farquhar prepared Kawasaki in the Supertwin races and a Michael Dunlop-built R6 Yamaha in the 600cc events under the MadBros banner.
Austrian Julian Trummer, already a veteran of the Manx Grand Prix, TT and IRRC series, Trummer will race in the Superstock, Supersport and Supertwin races at the NW200 on WH Racing machinery.
Josh Daley has also competed at the TT and Ulster Grand Prix but the Wigan rider, who will make his NW200 debut this year, has wanted to compete on the Triangle course since visiting as a spectator in 2018.
“Glenn Irwin won his first North West Superbike race on the Ducati that year.” the 26 year old recalled.I will race a ZX10 Kawasaki in both the Superstock and Superbike races. My main aim is to qualify, then be safe and enjoy myself.”
Manxman, Michael Evans was the best newcomer at the 2016 Manx Grand Prix and just a year later he won both the Junior and Senior MGP races. The following season he made his debut at the TT, finishing 17th in the second Supersport race and at the 2022 NW200 Evans will race a superstock spec S1000RR BMW, an R6 Yamaha and an ER6 Kawasaki at the North West for Heatech Racing.
Practice gets underway today (Tuesday), with more practice scheduled for Thursday morning ahead of the evening schedule that features the opening Supersport, Superstock and Supertwin races. Then Saturday kicks off with the second Supersport race, followed by the Superbike Race, then Supertwin Race Two followed by the second Superstock race before proceedings wind up on Saturday evening with the longest race of the week, the seven-lap Superbike contest.
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