The North West 200 week has made its way around once again, and this year is shaping up to be as big as it has ever been.
The North West 200 draws crowds of up to 100,000 people every year, and this year it is looking like a similar turnout will line the road sides of the famous “Triangle Circuit.”
Many supporters of the event have been concerned that the event may not be as competitive as in recent years with names such as John McGuinness, Keith Amor, Steve Plater and Ian Hutchinson set to miss the event. Even with these top class riders missing the races, there is no shortage of big name riders who will line the grid to take on the triangle. The likes of Guy Martin, Conor Cummins, Cameron Donald, Stuart Easton, Michael Rutter, Martin Jessopp, Ian Lougher, Gary Mason and Gary Johnson are only some of the great overseas riders lining up on the grid this year.
However, there is no shortage of home-grown, Irish riders ready to take the fight to them, including last years Superbike winner Alistair Seeley, Ryan Farquhar, Michael Dunlop, William Dunlop and Adrian Archibald to name but a few.
Practice got underway on Tuesday night and it was the “Wee Wizard” Alistair Seeley, who picked up where he left off last year by setting the fastest lap in the Superbike practise session with an impressive 4:31.148 second lap, leaving him almost a second ahead of the man in second place Michael Rutter. Seeley, on the Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing also set the pace in the Superstock class, topping the timesheets ahead of Michael Dunlop.
However, he didn't have it all his own way as Cameron Donald put in a very impressive lap time on his Wilson Craig Honda to top the Supersport times ahead of Seeley and Michael Dunlop.
Thursday nights qualifying was a different story altogether. Michael Rutter, the 12 time winner around the North West took pole position in the Superbike class beating his teammate Martin Jessop and Michael Dunlop to the front of the grid. Alistair Seeley had fuel pressure problems with his Superbike and struggled down in seventh position behind Gary Johnson. He did however top both the Supersport and Superstock timesheets to put himself in pole position and make up for the problems in the Superbike session.
Nothing, however can be taken away from Michael Rutter who did a 124.24mph lap around the triangle. Rutter will be looking to become the most successful Superbike rider at the North West 200 by taking his 13th win around the circuit, but he faces stiff competition and who know what will happen with the North West 200 being known as “the home of slipstreaming.”
One man who was set to race and unfortunately has had his North West cut short is Stuart Easton, who underwent surgery on the injuries he received after crashing his Kawasaki on Thursday night's Superstock free practise. He was involved in an incident with his teammate Gary Mason just after Mill Road Roundabout towards Station Corner. In a statement released by the MSS Colchester Kawasaki team they wanted to thank all the well wishers and give their support to Stuart and his family at this hard time.
Even with the absence of some very talented riders, including last years 5 in a row TT winner Ian Hutchinson, it is set to be a packed grid and one that will provide a lot of entertainment for the many fans on the North Coast this weekend. This week has already thrown up quite a few surprises so who knows what will happen on race day, all we know is, it is shaping up to be another classic North West 200.