The bikes returned to the track for final qualifying on Thursday at the North West 200. The much-anticipated Superbike face-off between Josh Brookes and Michael Dunlop did not materialise as Glenn Irwin recorded times inside the lap record to reign supreme at the top of the timesheets.
All eyes were on Peter Hickman due to the social media frenzy that developed when news of his crashed BMW M3 courtesy-car filtered through on Wednesday. However, the number 60 managed to put the previous day’s controversy behind him, slotting into second on the FHO BMW, followed by Hawk racing’s Richard Cooper in 3rd. Dunlop finished in 5th with Brookes 8th. The two rivals will start Saturday’s showpiece events at opposite ends of the second row of the grid.
It was a breezy but dry start to the day and as advertising flags flickered loudly on the lamp-posts, an expectant crowd took up position around the circuit. Many had travelled far to catch a glimpse of the best road racers on the planet and various languages could be heard excitedly chattering in anticipation of what lay ahead.
Those in attendance were treated to an exciting early Super Twin session before the Superbikes. That session finished with Richard Cooper on top, however Pierre Yves Bian recorded a time just under a second slower than Cooper, proving to the trackside fans that his exploits on Tuesday was no flash-in-the-pan. Local rider, Paul Jordan completed the top 3.
By the time the Superbikes came out on track, the sun had peeked out from behind the clouds and the roads were bone dry, although the strong winds would ensure that no one was claiming that conditions were perfect. As Irwin, Hickman, Cooper et al. thrashed it out between the caravan parks and golf courses, there was a sense that the novelty of being back after that enforced 3-year covid break had worn off. It was now a serious business and no one was messing around.
Irwin had ditched the superbike that Honda racing had specifically built for him to use on the roads in favour of the BSB bike he won all three races on at the opening round of this years championship. It proved to be a good decision.
However, no one can say it was the bike doing the work. Irwin went out in the next session and bagged pole once again for the Superstock races. An impressive showing from the Carrickfergus man who has won the last 4 superbike races at the triangle circuit. It was a Carrickfergus 1-2 as Alastair Seeley came in just behind Irwin with Davey Todd 3rd.
Seeley is the man with the most wins ever at the North West and the ‘Wee Wizard’ took pole in the final Supersport Session. Despite Seeley no longer competing in the BSB championship, make no mistake; the 3 time British champion is as fast as ever and those trailing him today have a serious job on their hands if they wish to dethrone the IFS Yamaha rider.
Mind you, it’s worth noting that Adam McLean, Davey Todd, Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison completed the session with times just under 2 seconds slower than Seeley. Around the 9-mile Causeway coast circuit that is nothing. History tells us that a rider starting from anywhere on the grid has a chance of taking home the winner’s wreath at the end of a North West 200 contest, such is the nature of the track.
“Qualifying today was so good, I had a good feeling from the first lap and set about our work, and to go under the faster-ever lap by two seconds, is something that pleases me a lot and again shows the potential of the Fireblade as a roads package, as well as our potential for this weekend. To back up the Superbike pole position, with the Superstock pole position just shows the package that we have. It was great to see so many spectators around the track this morning cheering me on. I spoke with John [McGuinness] about this evening’s Superstock race and spoke with some riders in the 600 race, and made the decision to sit it out. I have a young family and racing on the roads in the rain is not a risk I’m willing to take, so sorry to the fans but I’m sure everyone will understand, and we’ll be back in action on Saturday.”
John McGuinness enjoyed solid sessions aboard the Fireblade qualifying 10th for Saturday’s Superbike races and eighth in Superstock.
“I’m really enjoying this week, it’s been great, we’re learning loads, the Fireblade’s going great and we’ve been working well as a team. Glenn is on fire and it’s just all super positive, it’s the first time the Honda has been on the roads and to get pole in both of the big classes, everyone here has a smile on their face! Today has really built my confidence back on the roads and going back to the big bikes takes a bit of figuring out, but everything is coming. It’s disappointing with the weather this evening and I’m disappointed to not get out there, it’s my first time back here on the 1000cc Fireblade and I’m just a bit unsure in wet conditions, so we’ll save it until Saturday!”
It might be said that it was a modest, yet, keen crowd who attended these practice sessions. Until a few years ago, qualifying took place in the evenings but nowadays they are ran during the day and the crowds tend to be smaller due to work commitments and children being at school. The positive outcome of this is that three races take place in the evening slot that used to be reserved for final qualifying.
Heavy rain is forecast for the evening slot and as the roads opened after today’s qualifying, it was an uneasy crowd who headed home during the break, with speculation rife that perhaps the weather would put a stop to the scheduled proceedings altogether. However, you can be sure that the wet stuff won’t stop the fans coming out tonight. In Northern Ireland, road racing is almost akin to a religion and trackside is where they worship. Only time will tell whether the changeable conditions will cause such problems. The region enjoys a reputation much like Melbourne when it comes to the weather, with conditions along the coast particularly difficult to predict.
North West 200 Qualifying
Superbike Qualifying Two Results
Glenn Irwin 1 Honda Racing UK Honda 4:20.205
Peter Hickman 60 FHO Racing BMW 4:22.447
Richard Cooper 47 Hawk Racing Suzuki 4:23.996
Dean Harrison 5 DAO Racing Kawasaki 4:24.153
Michael Dunlop 6 Hawk Racing Suzuki 4:24.232
Davey Todd 74 Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles Honda 4:26.081
James Hillier 37 RICH Energy OMG Racing Yamaha 4:26.711
Josh Brookes 72 MCE Ducati Racing Ducati 4:27.054
Lee Johnston 13 Ashcourt Racing BMW 4:27.640
John McGuinness MBE 2 Honda Racing UK Honda 4:28.896
Alastair Seeley 34 IFS – Yamaha Yamaha 4:29.621
Michael Rutter 3 Bathams Racing BMW 4:29.928
Conor Cummins 11 Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles Honda 4:30.515
Ian Hutchinson 4 Milwaukee BMW Motorrad BMW 4:30.640
Brian McCormack 111 FHO / The Roadhouse Macau BMW 4:32.848
North West 200 Qualifying
Glenn Irwin 1 Honda Racing UK Honda 4:24.671
Alastair Seeley 34 IFS – Yamaha Yamaha 4:25.500
Davey Todd 74 Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles Honda 4:25.999
Peter Hickman 60 FHO Racing BMW 4:26.404
Michael Dunlop 6 MD Racing Honda 4:27.211
Lee Johnston 13 Ashcourt Racing BMW 4:27.610
Richard Cooper 47 Hawk Racing Suzuki 4:28.633
John McGuinness MBE 2 Honda Racing UK Honda 4:28.817
Michael Sweeney 65 MJR Racing BMW 4:31.542
Dom Herbertson 19 GB Racing BMW 4:31.592
James Hillier 37 RICH Energy OMG Racing Yamaha 4:31.639
Ian Hutchinson 4 Milwaukee BMW Motorrad BMW 4:32.175
Sam West 10 Moto Hub (PRL) BMW 4:32.338
Michael Rutter 3 Bathams Racing BMW 4:32.525
Jamie Coward 36 KTS Racing by Steadplan Yamaha 4:32.613
North West 200 Qualifying
Supersport Qualifying Two
Alastair SEELEY, Yamaha – IFS 4:38.774 115.836mph
Adam McLEAN, Kawasaki – McAdoo Kawasaki Racing 4:39.237 115.6448mph
Davey TODD, Honda – Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles 4:39.418 115.569mph
Michael DUNLOP, Yamaha – MD Racing 4:40.510 115.119mph
Dean HARRISON, Kawasaki – DAO Racing 4:40.619 115.074mph
James HILLIER, Yamaha – RICH Energy OMG Racing 4:42.199 114.430mph
Paul JORDAN, Yamaha – PreZ Racing 4:43.269 113.998mph
Michael SWEENEY, Yamaha – EM Building 4:44.773 113.396mph
Conor CUMMINS, Honda – Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles 4:44.919 113.337mph
Joe LOUGHLIN, Yamaha – Team ILR / Mark Coverdale 4:45.611 113.063mph
North West 200 Qualifying
Supertwin Second Qualifying
Richard COOPER Kawasaki – JMcC Roofing 4:51.951 110.608mph
Pierre Yves BIAN Paton – VAS Engine Racing 4:52.995 110.213mph
Paul JORDAN Kawasaki – PreZ Racing 4:53.778 109.920mph
Joe LOUGHLIN Paton – Team ILR / Mark Coverdale 4:54.948 109.484mph
Jeremy McWILLIAMS Paton – IFS / Bayview Hotel 4:55.087 109.432mph
Jamie COWARD Kawasaki – KTS Racing by Steadplan 4:56.251 109.002mph
Michael DUNLOP Kawasaki – McAdoo Kawasaki Racing 4:56.403 108.946mph
Lee JOHNSTON Aprilia – Ashcourt Racing 4:57.850 108.417mph
Michael RUTTER Paton – Team ILR / Mark Coverdale 4:59.174 107.937mph
Michael SWEENEY Kawasaki – KBS 4:59.836 107.699mph
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