It might well be the case that the 2015 Vauxhall North West 200 might be remembered more for what happened off the track than on it.
Certainly Guy Martin’s outburst about chicanes at the Traingle circuit - for which he later apologised to Race Director Mervyn Whyte - may well be many people’s abiding memory of this year’s event.
Martin, one of the sport’s most recognisable figures, sparked controversy and a heated debate on social media with his comment that the North West “isn’t a proper road race” due to the number of chicanes in place around the course.
The outburst almost overshadowed the racing, which despite being halted numerous times, was out of the top drawer.
Sadly, however, racing was marred by a serious accident in the first Superstock race, involving a number of riders that left Crumlin man Stephen Thompson in hospital in a ‘critical’ condition. One of the riders machines cleared a wall and hit a female spectator, who was also described as ‘critical.’ Dean Harrison, Horst Saiger and Stephen all crashed.
While Stephen and Horst were badly injured, Dean was able to return to the paddock by himself. While I know he is described as critical, I understand that the local man’s injuries will heal with time. I wish all the injured well.
The first of three races scheduled for Thursday night was the Supersport 600. For the first few laps of the race, NW newcomer and British Supersport contender Glenn Irwin was elbow to elbow with Alistair Seeley. More than once the Carrickfergus 25 year old took over at the front, but sadly the challenge came to an end when his Kawasaki ZXR6 dropped a valve on the fourth lap. That left Seeley out on his own, chased by Michael Dunlop. Dunlop closed Seeley down slightly, but setting a new lap record on lap five, Alistair pulled away again, to beat Dunlop by 7.5 seconds and register his 13th win at the track. Maguiresbridge rider Lee Johnston got the better of a great dice with veteran Bruce Anstey for the final step of the podium.
We only had a single local rider in this race. Riding the Team Wylie Triumph, Randalstown man Christian Elkin rode a steady race, to finish in 15th place. He had a fastest lap of 110.878mph.
Ryan Farquhar led the Supertwins race one from start to finish, but didn’t have things all his own way.
On the final lap, his team mate Jeremy McWilliams briefly nipped ahead, only to be re passed by Farquhar on the coast road section. Martin Jessop and Jamie Hamilton were locked together for much of the race, but due to a 30 second jump start penalty, Jessop dropped back to seventh place.
Again, Christian Elkin was the best of our local men. He finished in fourth place, although he was well behind Hamilton. Elki’s quickest lap of 105.474mph was the fifth fastest lap of the race. Our only other local rider was Crumlin’s Stephen Beattie, who was 18th. He had a quickest lap of 87.927mph.
The final race of Thursday night was the eagerly anticipated Superstock event. It was red flagged on the opening lap when Hungarian Sandor Bitter slid off at Ballysally. Although not seriously injured, Bitti was knocked out and so took no part in the rest of the meeting.
With the sun low in the sky, the race was abandoned, and rescheduled for first thing on Saturday.
Thursday’s Superstock race was first to the start on Saturday. It was halted on the second lap due to the incident I mentioned above. The resulting stoppage led to a 3 hour delay. After the restart, it was almost immediately stopped again, due to another crash. Race Director Mervyn Whyte then abandoned that race.
The next Supersport 600 race was, for me, the best of the weekend. With a new engine fitted to his Gearlink Kawasaki, Glenn Irwin, in his first North West, Alistair Seeley and Lee Johnston were always going to be the men to beat. That was exactly the way it panned out. For 6 laps all three were literally inches apart.
It looked like Irwin was going to take the win, but Seeley stuck to the inside line braking down into Juniper Chicane on the last lap. Irwin was on the outside and was forced wide by Johnston, who overshot.
Seeley took the win by 2.5 seconds, while despite being on the grass, Irwin recovered to take second after Johnston was given a 10 second penalty for not stopping in the stop box after his overshoot.
Christian Elkin took 14th place with a fastest lap of 110.873mph, and was our only local entrant.
At York Corner, on the opening lap of the first Superbike race, Ian Hutchinson led, holding the inside line over Gary Johnston and Alistair Seeley. It didn’t take too long for the Carrick man, dubbed the Wee Wizard, to go ahead, but he never really had the luxury of a decent gap over the rest of the field.
He eventually took the race win, finishing .3 of a second ahead of Ian Hutchinson. Hutchy, who was easily the best of the Kawasaki riders, was a similar distance ahead of Bruce Anstey at the finish.
Next up was the Supertwins race. While the outright speed of the Superbikes and Supersport bikes simply isn’t available here, that actually made the racing better in that it forced the riders to use the slipstream far more. Ryan Farquhar and Jeremy McWilliams were the top two for the four laps, breaking away from Jamie Hamilton. McWilliams slipstreamed Farquhar on the last lap after Ballysally Roundabout and managed to edge out a slight lead. He held his nerve along the coast road, by his own admission, his weakest part of the track, to win by .4 of a second. The top two had pulled away from Jamie Hamilton.
Best local man was Christian Elkin. He finished in a lonely fourth place, lapping at 105.471mph. Mark Sheilds, from Ballymena was 12th, with a quickest lap of 94.505mph.
The eagerly awaited Superstock race was next. For the entire 5 laps it was Lee Johnston and Alistair Seeley who were the main men. These two kept the crowds on the edge of their seats as the diced with each other. Recovering from a lowly starting position on row four of the grid, Ian Hutchinson broke the lap record trying to catch the leaders, and stay ahead of Michael Dunlop.
At the line Johnston took the win, just .1 ahead of Seeley, while just .3 adrift, Hutchy finished in third place. We had no local men in this race.
With the rain and high winds imminent, the race organisers made the decision to cancel the final Superbike race. By then it was well after 7pm and many people had started to head home anyway.
This weekend its back to the Adelaide Mondello Masters series, with a full race programme at the Co Kildare track.
As normal, I’ll have a full roundup of the weekend’s action in next weeks Times.