2016 North West 200 – Triumphs and Tragedy

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

“Every boy has his dreams and this was my boyhood dream come true.”

That was Alastair Seeley’s reaction after winning the opening Supersport race on the Gear Link Kawasaki at the 2016 North West 200 to chalk up his 16th victory at the Northern Ireland event and become the most successful rider of all-time. 

Seeley surpassed Robert Dunlop’s tally of 15 North West race wins.

Alastair Seeley

“The last few years have all been about the record.” a relieved Seeley said. “I didn’t arrive here thinking I had it in the bag so I’ve studied and watched other riders and even in the races I was still analysing and studying positions on track and people’s machinery. Where I was strong, where I was weak and where the others were strong and weak. It takes a lot to actually win round here but you also need a lot of luck and I think I’ve had my fair share.”

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

Unfortunately, the 2016 North West 200 also had a nightmare when 20-year-old Malachi Mitchell-Thomas died after sliding off his Burrows Engineering Kawasaki SuperTwin near Black Hill.

Classic TT 2015 - Senior Manx Grand Prix - Malachi Mitchell-Thomas
Classic TT 2015 – Senior Manx Grand Prix – Malachi Mitchell-Thomas atop the Manx Grand Prix podium in 2015

Malachi was perhaps the brightest new talent to recently arrive on the real roads scene and his loss cast a sad pall over the paddock. Mitchell-Thomas was very popular and there have been some wonderful tributes to the lad from Chorley in Lancashire. One of the best of the best is this piece by Belfast Telegraph correspondent Jim Gracey.

Classic TT 2015 - Senior Manx Grand Prix - Malachi Mitchell-Thomas
Classic TT 2015 – Senior Manx Grand Prix – Malachi Mitchell-Thomas (centre) took out the Senior Manx Grand Prix last year

Another high profile incident happened during race week when Ryan Farquhar went down hard with Dan Cooper while the pair were tussling for position at the head of the SuperTwins field.

Farquhar is one of most well revered and respected names in modern road racing. There were grave fears for the 40-year-old immediately following the accident but thankfully Ryan is now out of ICU at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and on the road to recovery.

Ryan Farquhar - North West 200
Ryan Farquhar – North West 200 – Image by Jon Jessop

Ryan’s wife Karen has publicly thanked everyone for all the support they have given her and their daughters, Keeley and Mya, since the accident, especially all of the team members, family and friends who have called or texted, and is extremely grateful and appreciative to everyone.

Hopefully we can still see the likeable Irishman at the Island Classic again next year, even if he decides to hang up his leathers after this latest scare.

SuperTwins - North West 200 - 2016 - Image by Jon Jessop
SuperTwins – North West 200 – 2016 – Ryan Farquhar #1 – Image by Jon Jessop

Farquhar and Cooper had crashed at the same corner that claimed Mitchell-Thomas later in the week. Cooper escaped the incident comparatively lightly but is still battered and bruised. As is Kiwi veteran Bruce Anstey who virtually walked away from a massive high-speed off that the 47-year-old would be counting his lucky stars to have escaped.

Jeremy McWilliams

“The decision to race on Saturday was taken with the aim of getting a podium finish for Ryan but, sadly, it’s a hollow podium for us. I was one of the first riders to pass through the scene of the accident and although the race was stopped, we didn’t know that Malachi had sadly passed away when we were called onto the podium; if I had I wouldn’t have gone up. We’re all absolutely devastated for Malachi’s father, his family, John and Rachel Burrows and everyone connected with the team so our thoughts are all with them at this difficult time.”

Jeremy McWilliams - Image by Jon Jessop
Jeremy McWilliams – Image by Jon Jessop

Ben Wilson crashed at the start of race week and suffered very serious leg injuries. The extent of which led Wilson to head to London where he was operated on by the same surgeon that helped put Ian Hutchinson’s leg back together. Wilson will be out for at least six months but is in good spirits after the initial surgery was deemed a great success.

Ben Wilson

“I am totally gutted to have been injured at the North West this year; I was really looking forward to it after my debut in 2015. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in getting me looked after and also for getting me back home, especially Michael and Norma. I have a long road of rehabilitation ahead of me but I will be back I must say a huge well done to Alastair and the Gearlink Kawasaki team and also I send my thoughts to Malachi’s family and friends, a very sad loss.”

Both Nico Mawhinney and Paul Gartland were also injured in crashes.

Michael Dunlop was the winner of the only Superbike race to be run at the event on his Hawk Racing BMW. The 11 times TT winner broke the outright lap record set by Josh Brookes in 2014 during his NW200 debut year. Dunlop also finished fifth on his MD Racing BMW in the Superstock race.

North West 200 - 2016 - Michael Dunlop - Image by Jon Jessop
North West 200 – 2016 – Michael Dunlop – Image by Jon Jessop
Michael Dunlop

“It was good to go out on the superbike and prove that we can still win races.” a delighted Dunlop said. “It was tight but I did a lap record on my own, no towing, no slip streaming, no nothing.”

North West 200 - 2016 - Superbike Podium
North West 200 – 2016 – Superbike Podium

Dunlop’s arch TT rival, Ian Hutchinson, was runner up in the superbike event but the Yorkshireman had his revenge in the Superstock race when he took victory after Alastair Seeley ran wide on his Briggs BMW at Metropole on the final lap.

In what he described as “his best day ever at the North West 200”, the 36 year old wasn’t surprised by his success.

Ian Hutchinson

“It went as I was expecting it to as it has gone pretty smoothly since I got on the Tyco bikes.” he smiled. “We’ve not really struggled with anything and everything was going really well. It was the easiest and best North West I’ve ever had really.”

North West 200 - 2016 - Superstock Podium - Image by Jon Jessop
North West 200 – 2016 – Superstock Podium – Image by Jon Jessop

Hutchy was the victor in the best race of the day with seven riders battling for the lead at one stage during the stock event. It all came down to a last lap braking battle between the Bingley man and North West specialist,

Alastair Seeley on the Briggs BMW at Metropole corner with Hutchy coming out on top.

Alastair Seeley

“It’s been a very emotional week for us all at the North West this year; I have been coming to this race since I was a little boy. I watched such heroes as the Dunlop’s, Rutter, Anstey and McCallen and now my name is alongside theirs in the record books.

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

“I’ve been blown away by the amount of messages of support from around the world and it really has been very special. The Gearlink Kawasaki team provided me with everything I needed and I must thank Michael, Norma and Arron for all their help and support. Michael and Norma were unable to make it to the race in 2013 when I won on their bike so it was really good that they could be here this time to witness this! The bike ran like a dream all week and I felt really comfortable and confident in both Supersport races. I must also at this point wish my team-mate Ben Wilson a quick and speedy recovery.

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

“I felt a little less pressure after the 16th win on Thursday as there was a lot of talk beforehand about it. I could relax in the second race on Saturday and it was really enjoyable, I felt so happy on the bike and was able to make a break earlier than in race one and bridge a gap between myself and the battle behind me.

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

“The weather has been perfect all week and it’s just an incredible feeling to have won 17 NW200 races! I would also like to say a huge thank you to all my personal sponsors for their input and also supporting me here on my home turf in Northern Ireland.

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

“I must admit that everything is overshadowed by the very sad loss of Malachi Mitchell-Thomas, he was an extremely talented young rider and our thoughts are with his family and close friends.”

Alastair Seeley - Image by Jon Jessop
Alastair Seeley – Image by Jon Jessop

Ivan Lintin was the winner of both Supertwins races on the Devitt’s RC Express Kawasaki.

Racing was abandoned before the feature Superbike and second Superstock races were run.

Supersport Northwest 200 2016 - Image by Jon Jessop
Supersport Northwest 200 2016 – Image by Jon Jessop