It was a day of records at the prestigious International North West 200 road racing event in Northern Ireland, with local rider Alastair Seeley taking his win tally to an incredible 21 victories as he claimed four wins in the week for the first time in his career.
Local hero Seeley, from Carrickfergus, was in imperious form throughout qualifying, setting pole position in the Supersport and Superstock classes whilst Michael Rutter lined up first in the Superbike division.
Under clear blue skies, Thursday night saw the traditional start to proceedings with the first Supersport, Superstock and Supertwins events. Martin Jessopp took his first ever International road race victory in the 600cc class which he later followed up in the lightweight Supertwins outing. Seeley, or The ‘Wee Wizard’, as he is affectionately known, took the Superstock victory on his Tyco BMW S1000RR with a dominant 12 second win and logged up a new lap record in the process.
Saturday was very different with overnight rain seeing a delay to proceedings. It was the second Supersport race which kicked the action off, and picking up where he left off on Thursday it was Seeley who cruised to victory by over 4 seconds.
With rain arriving as the Superbikes took to the grid, a lengthy delay ensued with the race eventually getting underway over a shortened race distance of four laps and on a wet track. The ‘Wee Wizard’ was in imperious form throughout the race to claim the win by over 21 seconds ahead of fellow Metzeler rider Rutter. Rutter would be able to go one better in the following Supertwin race however, returning to the top step of the podium to become the third most successful rider in North West 200 history. Thursday night race winner Jessopp finished third. The second Superstock race was red flagged with rain arriving mid-way through the race, giving Tyco BMW and Alastair Seeley another victory with Rutter third.
As the circuit dried, the scene was set for an epic finale; the seven lap North West 200 Superbike race. It did not disappoint as Seeley, Ian Hutchinson and Glenn Irwin battled throughout in a series of audacious overtakes. British Superbike young star Irwin took his maiden victory with some style in front of his local fans.
The full extent of John McGuinness’ injuries have been revealed following his crash during practice at the NW200.
The veteran broke his leg but has also been diagnosed with four broken vertebrae and has three broken back ribs. The injuries mean he will remain at Royal Victoria Hospital for around one week as part of the recuperation process and will wear a cast for up to six weeks in treatment for the vertebrae.
Honda Racing has received McGuinness’ Fireblade from the race organisers and will perform a detailed analysis of the bike and ECU data at its headquarters in Louth to work out why the bike’s throttle stuck open – as a result, the team has withdrawn from the Superstock and Superbike races at the North West 200.
The team will next be on track at Castle Combe in a couple of weeks’ time as part of its preparation for the Isle of Man TT.
Jonny Twelvetrees, team manager, said: “Unfortunately John’s incident at Primrose Hill during qualifying has resulted in quite a substantial injury to his right Tibia and Fibula. It is a real blow to John and the team, but he’s got an incredible amount of spirit and is in very good hands with the medical staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
“We now need to determine what happened and will sit out the Superstock and Superbike races, get back to Louth to analyse John’s bike and re-group ahead of our next test at Castle Combe in a couple of weeks before we head to the Isle of Man.”
A stuck throttle saw John McGuinness lose control of his Fireblade at the NW200, with the veteran crashing out of the Superbike practice session and breaking his leg in the process.
The technical gremlin struck as McGuinness entered Primrose corner, and the 43-year-old was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital with a suspected broken right leg.
He has since had his tib and fib plated and will miss this year’s Isle of Man TT.
The crash has also played havoc with Guy Martin’s pre-TT preparations. The Lincolnshire maverick was using the NW200 as a practice for the TT, but his Honda Racing team withdrew Martin from the Superstock race on safety grounds.
The news marked a miserable opening to the NW200 for Honda – Bruce Anstey also withdrew from the Superstock race as ‘he wasn’t comfortable on the bike’.
#34 Alastair Seeley
Alastair Seeley continued his domination of the NW200 races, chalking up wins in the Supersport and Superbike categories to move him to the top of the event’s all time win rankings, with an incredible 15 victories – a feat which moves him level with Robert Dunlop.
Seeley, from Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, showed his intentions early in the week as he made easy work of the tricky conditions throughout practice on his Tyco BMW ‘big bikes’ in the Superbike and Superstock classes, alongside a Tyco TAS Suzuki in Supersport 600. Seeley duly logged his first win of the week in Thursday evening’s Supersport opener and was looking set for a very strong position in the first Superstock race, before it was postponed.
Saturday’s schedule was severely affected by showers and accidents with the postponed Superstock race again moved back to later in the day. The Supersport race was a thrilling affair as Northern Irish riders Seeley, Lee Johnston and NW200 debutant Glen Irwin swapped the lead in a high speed slipstreaming spectacle, with Seeley eventually coming out on top.
The first Superbike race of the programme saw Seeley take the holeshot before a confidently riding Ian Hutchinson moved into the lead. The race was red flagged but the re-start saw an identical scenario develop as Hutchinson then went on to lead much of the race on his PBM Kawasaki. Seeley showed his local knowledge by outbraking the TT star into the Magheraboy chicane on the final lap to take the win, equalling Robert Dunlop’s long standing 15 win record.
After yet more showers, the Superstock race saw another titanic battle between the lightweight local racers Seeley and Johnston, joined at times in the slipstream by other riders. This time round Johnston turned the tables on Seeley, and they were joined on the podium again by Hutchinson, who logged a new lap record for the class.
The final event of the programme, the Vauxhall NW200 Superbike race was postponed after strong winds hit the area, a decision made by organisers after rider consultation.
Peter Hickman is targeting the Isle of Man TT races to return to action after withdrawing from the North West 200 as a result of his injuries sustained in a crash at Oulton Park on Saturday.
Having sustained two broken ribs in the 150mph spill on the approach to Druids, the 27-year old has subsequently been diagnosed with two breaks of the C4 vertebrae in his neck meaning he will be unable to participate in the first International road race of the season, which gets underway on Tuesday, May 12.
The Louth-based rider enjoyed an excellent debut at the event 12 months ago, comfortably being the best performing newcomer and also recording the fastest ever lap by a circuit debutante. However, the nature of his injuries mean it simply isn’t possible to ride and the aim now is to be fully fit for the TT.
Briggs Equipment BMW team owner Lee Hardy said: “His injuries from the crash on Saturday are a little bit worse than we first thought, so the goal now is to support Peter as best as we can and ensure he gets the best possible medical support with the aim of being ready for the TT. He needs to get as much rest and recuperation as he can and the final decision will ultimately lie with his surgeon but we’re very hopeful of being ready for practice week at the Isle of Man. I’d also like to publicly thank the on-site medical team at Oulton Park for all their excellent treatment and support given to Peter after his accident.”
Hickman enjoyed a sensational debut at the TT in 2014, finishing as the fastest ever newcomer in the event’s history beating Josh Brookes outright fastest lap by a newcomer with 129.104 in the last lap of the 2014 PokerStars Senior TT which saw him finish in 11th place.
Iconic Italian motorcycle manufacturer Bimota will field a two-pronged attack for its assault on the roads this year.
Ben Wylie and Brandon Cretu will campaign onboard the BMW S1000RR powered Bimota BB3 at the Northwest 200, the Isle of Man TT and the Ulster Grand Prix before finishing the season in China at the Macau Grand Prix.
This will not be the first time Wylie and Cretu have shared an awning, with Cretu working out of the Wylie Racing tent during the 2011 and 2012 TT. Wylie is no stranger to a full season of real road racing, being a regular contender and top 10 finisher, but 2015 marks the first time an American will compete at all of the big four internationals.
Wylie, who is also the team’s manager, said: “We are delighted to announce our two rider Bimota team for 2015. Bringing Brandon on board completes our vision for a full on attack on the International roads and puts everything in place for a solid season. I am confident we can get the best out of Brandon and having worked together before I feel we can really benefit and learn from each other’s experience. I’m looking forward to riding a bit more this year on a very competitive bike and getting myself back to where I know I should be, fighting for top 10 positions in all 3 big bike TT races.”
This year promises to be a strong season for Maria Costello’s after the roads ace penned a deal to ride one of the top bikes in the sport.
The former Isle of Man TT female record holder has signed to ride international road races on a new S1000RR for the BMW Motorrad UK backed ICE Valley team.
Costello, a regular fixture at the Northwest 200, Isle of Man and Ulster Grand Prix, says she is confident that this year will be huge for her and her backers.
The Northamptonshire rider believes the switch will spur her on to her best year yet. She said: “This year I’m in the best shape ever, I’ve got the latest BMW, a new crew chief from CMB Motorsport and a great team ready to support my assault on the roads. I must be one of the luckiest women on this planet. Last year I was injured, so I’ve got unfinished business at the NorthWest 200 and the Isle of Man TT. I really can’t wait to test the BMW next week.”
Lee Nicholls, Marketing & PR Manager for BMW Motorrad UK, was equally buoyant. He said: “We are delighted to be able to announce that Maria Costello will be riding a BMW S1000RR for the road racing season in 2015. We are committed to attracting more dynamic female riders to the brand and Maria is the perfect ambassador and inspiration for women in motorsports and motorcycling. She will inspire new riders and introduce them to BMW Motorrad, and in turn the BMW S1000RR will be a fantastic package for her to challenge at the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix.”
The move means Maria will also be teaming up with the slick ICE Valley team, which had the fastest newcomer at the TT in 2014.
Team owner and rider, Paul Shoesmith, is keen to see Costello reach new goals on the roads. “She’s had some rough deals and wrong machinery in the past. I’d like to see her get the female lap record back. She has the right bike now and a team to help her achieve that. We look forward to Maria being part of the team.”