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Archives for May 2011

From a rider's perspective

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NI Blogs Admin | 18:58 UK time, Saturday, 21 May 2011

What a day that was! Thankfully we got one race in and a local win, with the wee wizard from Carrick taking his total of North West wins to five with his Supersport victory. What a scintillating race it was. It will make fabulous vieiwing in the BBC NW200 highlights programme on Monday night.

Alastair Seeley and Cameron Donald battle it out in the Supersport race

Alastair Seeley and Cameron Donald battle it out in the Supersport race

Mervyn Whyte and his team went over and above the call of duty to try and keep the race action going. There will be nobody more disappointed that all the races didn't run than Mervyn. Maybe if Ryan Farquhar's bike had blown up somewhere else on the track in the Superbike race other than on the recently laid tarmac things could have continued. But as it was every time they thought they had the oil cleaned up, it just kept seeping back through. Then the event finally succumbed to the inevitable, when they were unable make the circuit safe enough to continue.

Full respect to Michael Rutter who stuck to his guns and pulled off the grid whenever they wouldn't hold back the first running of the Superbike race. He told me that it wasn't due to a lack of grip and that the surface was ok, but the problem was that when the riders got caught up in the traffic the spray coming up off other bikes' tyres made it impossible to see properly. Micahel would have preferred the start of the race to be held back until more of the surface water had been cleared, but as it was it wouldn't have made any difference due to the oil seeping onto the circuit.

Ultimately, the most important thing is everybody is heading home safe from what action we have had today and the good news is that Stuart Easton is recovering well in hospital and we all send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I felt really sorry for the riders today. I know from when I used to race that you wake up on race day morning full of nerves and anxiety and you just want to be out on the bike and get the action underway. However, today with all the delays everything was strung out for the riders. Having a few aborted attempts at getting the racing underway only creates more tension and nervousness for riders until it comes to a point when you have been hanging around for so long that it then becomes a problem to get yourself in the right frame of mind for when you actually have to race.

A few highlights from the action we did get this week was the epic battle between Seeley and Donald in the Supersport race, an outstanding debut performance in qualifying from simon Andrews and the slick running and amount of practice time available from the practice sessions. Whilst this year's race day was disappointingly interrupted through circumstances and the weather, it will only make next year's North West 200 even more eagerly anticipated.

Last word and a special mention goes to all the hearty spectators who deserve a lot of praise for sticking it out for the full duration today in difficult conditions. Thank you to all of you who have followed the blogs and the rest of our BBC NW200 coverage and thanks to those of you who have sent in texts,
photos and social media messages. Hopefully the BBC coverage through online, tv and radio today helped make the day not too long for all of you!

I'm looking forward already to joining you all at next year's NW200. Fingers crossed for better weather.

Safety First

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NI Blogs Admin | 18:38 UK time, Saturday, 21 May 2011

After my initial optimism of seeing some race action between the showers, none of us could have predicted what unfolded this afternoon. A bomb scare meant that the paddock had to be evacuated – unprecedented in the event's history – which wasted almost two hours of our precious road closure time.

Once we did get the bikes on the circuit an oil leak from Ryan Farquhar machine caused havoc for the rest of the day. Despite the race organiser's best efforts, the scale of the oil spill meant that the road surface from Church to Juniper lead most of the riders to voice concerns about this key portion of the track.

 

oil spill on the NW200 track

 



The heavy and intermittent rain showers only added to the situation with water spray off the back of the bikes a major problem for the chasing pack at speeds of almost 200mph.

After constant liaison with a number of key riders including Michael Rutter, Guy Martin and Michael Dunlop, race director Mervyn Whyte had no option but to bring proceedings to an early end, to ensure that safety of the riders - and the watching public around the course - was the main priority.


Alastair Seeley is heading home tonight as the sole winner at this year’s NW200. It may feel like a hollow victory given the wash-out that the day brought, but I’m sure he must feel at least satisfied that he was able to get some laps under his belt on the roads. His ding-dong race with ex-team mate Cameron Donald, on the Wilson Craig Honda, was the only highlight of a wet and disappointing day for the thousands of dedicated race fans who patiently waited for a glimpse of their heroes.

You have to feel sorry for Mervyn Whyte and his team as today’s unfortunate events were beyond their control. We can only look forward to NW200 2012 with the knowledge that they will continue to work hard to bring us a week of exciting but safe racing.

See you next year.

Trackside with McCallen

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NI Blogs Admin | 15:30 UK time, Saturday, 21 May 2011

Saturday morning started off badly for the North West 200. When I looked out the window my heart sank at the sight of the wet roads. But the crowds still turned up and Mervyn got the North West off to a superb start with a very exciting 600 race.

To be honest the way these boys were riding the wet didn’t seem to affect them. Alastair Seeley rode the wheels off his 600 Suzuki just to hold off Cameron Donald who was determined to become the first Australian to win at the North West. That was not his only reason for motivation because don’t forget Alastair Seeley’s team Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing just happens to be Cameron’s old team!

Thankfully, given the conditions the Supersport was a safe race with no major incidents.

With this race over and things looking good Mervyn had the Superbikes on the line and getting ready for the second race when disaster struck. For the first time in the history of the North West racing had to be delayed due to a bomb scare. This was a very unfortunate and unprecedented event as motor cycling has always been a cross-community sport in Northern Ireland.

Special praise and a big word of thanks goes to the Marshalls and all the officials who worked so efficiently to resolve the security situation and to all the fans for their cooperation. Meryvn once again had the Superbikes on the grid ready to start when another surprise occurred – the Ducatis of Michael Rutter and his team mate Martin Jessopp were taken from the grid due to their concern for high speed visibility with the spray.

The race actually got underway with a superb first lap during which Michael Dunlop was chasing Alastair Seeley hard when suddenly the race was red flagged. The reason for this was that oil was seeping from the back of Ryan Farquhar’s bike. Ryan did a superb job keeping his machine under control because he didn’t realise initially that oil was leaking from his bike.



Oil spill from the Superbike race

Oil spill from the Superbike race

Since the race was delayed the Marshalls have been working tirelessly to remove the oil from Church Bend to Jupiter, which is a big challenge because oil mixing with water spreads rapidly and leaves a big clean up operation.

It’s hard to predict anything on this day, but the latest word from the paddock is that the racing is back on and the Superbike race next up is reduced to four laps. For the sake of all the fans who have turned up in these conditions and everyone involved in the North West, I hope we can see some more action today.

How the weather changes things

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NI Blogs Admin | 10:12 UK time, Saturday, 21 May 2011

Well its race day morning and the weather at the North West is atrocious. This will certainly put the cat among the pigeons. All of your dry qualifying times now go out the window and the wet weather specialists will come to the fore.

Wet track at the North West 200

The North West 200 track on Saturday morning

All the fast guys are still going to be up near the front but conditions like these will probably play into the hands of riders such as Ryan Farquhar and Michael Dunlop. I reckon that some of the guys will maybe have their eye on their British Championship commitments and so perhaps won’t push themselves beyond what they feel comfortable with. However, as we have seen from previous years when there has been wet races, the likes of Ryan’s confidence and experience in the wet can make up for any small deficiencies in the machinery.

I reckon the racing will still be tight, competitive and exciting but just at a slower pace.

Keep the fingers crossed for a safe day’s racing.

McCallen's Friday Feelings

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NI Blogs Admin | 17:19 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

It has been a very interesting last two days at the North West. The man of the moment Alastair Seeley was knocked off pole position in the Superbike class with a fuelling problem. As a rider this is your worst nightmare when something mechanical goes wrong with your bike and it is out of your control. There is no doubt with the amount of spare parts and spare bikes the TAS team has at their disposal along their technical ability, that they will have this bike ready for Saturday.

To be honest I wouldn’t worry about Alastair missing out on the Superbike practice because he is already knows this machine and as he proved with his victory in the event last year, he knows his way round the course. From experience I am fully aware that starting from the third row of the grid is not such a problem round here for a good rider, because with the long straights you can pull back a few places with good slipstreaming. I even managed to win from the back of the grid at the North West (many years ago now)!

 

Phillip McCallen at the NW200 in 1999

Phillip McCallen at the NW200 in 1999 (Image: Darren Kidd)

One of our biggest losses this year at the North West is the MSS Colchester Kawasaki team of Stuart Easton and Gary Mason, who were involved in a high speed coming together when Mason’s machine cut out at around 150mph. Gary was taken to hospital as a precaution but thankfully he was released with no major injuries. Stuart is in the RVH at the moment with a fractured pelvis and broken fingers. I know what it’s like to sustain injuries as a road racer, down the years. I’ve had a fractured pelvis myself and a few other injuries including a fractured skull, broken shoulders and broken back. We all wish Stuart a speedy and full recovery.

Just to provide you with a bit of insight into what’s happening in the North West paddock this week. A number of riders and teams have suffered setbacks, which they are working hard to rectify for Saturday. Michael Dunlop is going well on his Superstock machine but still needs the suspension fine-tuned on his Superbike and a few more tweaks on his 600. His brother William is still working on a few minor things on his new superbike, Superstock and 600. Our own Ryan Farquhar, who has no time to get his superbike ready for NW200 this year, is working hard on his Superstock machine which has had a little clutch slipping during practice. He is also trying to get a little more speed out of his 600. Cameron Donald, however, is pretty happy with all his machines.

The veterans Bruce Anstey and Michael Rutter who a few people have written off, showed in practice that they still have the talent to be up at the top end of the grid. Rutter’s team mate Martin Jessopp is demonstrating great potential in his second visit here. Gary Johnson has good machines this year and riding really well.

The crowd’s favourite Guy Martin seems to be struggling a bit to perform at his best here. I’m not sure if that is because he is familiarising himself with the new team and bikes, which he says he is happy with, or if it is because, as some have suggested, he is saving himself for the TT.

With the unpredictable weather conditions there is potential for a lot of different winners tomorrow. Any of the riders I have mentioned all have the capacity to pick up a race win.

Last year Alastair Seeley took my record of being the last Irishman to win a superbike race here 13 years ago. Can he go even further this year and match my North West record of five wins in a day??

 

Mentor & Protege

NI Blogs Admin | 17:07 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

The man of the moment at this week's event,  Alastair Seeley and Ballyclare novice Jamie Hamilton took time out on the eve of race day to tell us how they became mates and how they have been preparing for the North West.

What tips has Seeley given Hamilton and does the mentor think the protege is ready to step up to the mark on Saturday?!

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Paddle Power

NI Blogs Admin | 15:23 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

The further adventures of NW200 virgin Jamie Hamilton.

After enduring the rigours of speeds of 180mph on his Superstock, including bruises sustained by flying stones, we thought we'd give Jamie the chance to cool off in the balmy waters of Portballintrae harbour.

 

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Thursday's Thoughts

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NI Blogs Admin | 15:39 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

Well the second qualifying session has just finished. We’ve had a good day, bar the incident at the start of the session involving MSS Colchester Kawasaki team mates Stuart Easton and Gary Mason. Although Stuart Easton has suffered a serious leg and hip break, initial fears were that the injuries suffered, were a lot worse. We wish him a speedy recovery. Gary Mason went to hospital for a check-up but thankfully he is ok.

Once qualifying resumed it was fast and furious. Alastair Seeley continued his dominance topping the timesheets in the Supersport and Superstock class and probably might have topped the Superbike session as well, only for fuelling problems with his Relentless Suzuki by Tas Racing machine to halt the Carrick man's progress. The team spent the full one hour Superbike session trying to get to the root of the problem but failed and they will have their work cut out ensuring the bike is up and running for Saturday.

Another local man on form today was Michael Dunlop, who finished second in the Superstock class and third in both the Superbike and Supersport. His aggressive riding style certainly was bringing him to the fore in qualifying and his confidence will be high going into Saturday. Michael’s brother William seems to have stepped up a gear around the North West circuit. Now that William has got very competitive machinery and highly regarded Moto GP suspension technician Graeme Irvine on his team I think he could be a serious contender for the podiums on Saturday.

Guy Martin appeared not to be in talkative form today. He was very focused on the job in hand and we can only hope he has an early success on Saturday and that brings him round to the usual, jovial Guy, full of quips that we all know and love.

Guy Martin

Other riders that performed notably well in qualifying were Gary Johnson, Lee Johnston, Cameron Donald, Michael Rutter and his team mate Martin Jessop. As for the newcomers; British superbike rider Simon Andrews really shone in qualifying in tenth position in the Superbike class, whilst local lads Kirk Jamison and Jamie Hamilton also performed strongly.

Now our thoughts turn to race day and who is going to come out on top? It is hard to see past Alastair Seeley given his form. However, I think whatever races he doesn’t win, Michael Dunlop could pick up. Of course it’s never easy to pick a winner at the NW200 but the last time Michael Rutter won round here, he was riding this bike, but in the North West 200 colours  – could this be an omen? Other contenders include Cameron Donald, Gary Johnson and if it was to be wet Dungannon’s Ryan Farquhar could take the spoils.

Just finally – could this be the year that BBC correspondent Phillip McCallen’s record of five wins in a day is finally matched???

Mambo Italiano

NI Blogs Admin | 15:34 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

Female rider Simona Zaccardi from Italy shares her thoughts with us as she prepares for her first NW200. Our presenter Nial Foster gets an unexpected double peck on the cheek too! The video is short and sweet just like the lady herself.

 

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Wheelie Wheelie Good

NI Blogs Admin | 11:59 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ever wondered how Carl Fogarty manages such extravagant wheelies?

The Relentless wheelie machine rolled into the North West 200 paddock this week. All week fans have been getting the opportunity to wheelie like the professionals.

We caught up with instructor Tacc Brown to discuss the technical art of wheelieing and to find out if it's as hard as it looks.

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International Relations

NI Blogs Admin | 18:39 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The International NW200 is well named with riders coming from all over the globe to take part:  Holland, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand and the USA to name a few.

Right at the back of the paddock, in the far right corner ...next to a field of cows …..lives a France-Ecosse partnership of kindred racing spirits. Fabrice Miguet and Sandy Berwick are hardened road racing veterans who swap parts, support and encouragement in a world where sponsorship means painting the bike yourself.

 

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Can anyone stop Seeley?

NI Blogs Admin | 18:22 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The North West paddock had a more laidback air on Wednesday afternoon after the adrenaline and excitement of Tuesday night’s practice session. As fans and riders enjoyed the blue skies, we caught up with Carrickfergus man Alastair Seeley who appropriately was in relaxed mood and mingling with fans after putting down a marker as the early man to beat in the first practice.

Seeley topped the leaderboard in the Superbike and Superstock class and also finished second in the Supersport class behind Cameron Donald.

“Last night was all about the getting the most number of laps and mileage under my belt and getting used to the conditions before the weather closed in,” said Seeley.

The Wee Wizard, who already has four North West victories to his name, was delighted to get off to the perfect start by topping the Superbike practice session. Up next came the Supersport class and a closely fought duel with Cameron Donald, which the Carrickfergus rider relished.

“Cameron Donald just had the edge and got P1, but I felt good in the Supersport class too. It gave the fans what they wanted to see; some close racing action and excitement. That’s what the fans come for and that’s what the North West is all about,” said Seeley.

Seeley v Donald in a closely fought duel – could that be a sign of things to come on Saturday?

The Relentless TAS Suzuki pilot today had the quietly confident air of a man who knows what it takes to win at this circuit.

“I am always relaxed at the North West because I really enjoy this event and I have experience round here,” said Seeley.

With Seeley in this form, would you bet against him adding to his four North West victories?

NW200 Virgin

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NI Blogs Admin | 15:02 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

How would you feel as a 20 year old novice, about to race at speeds approaching 200mph around the NW200 circuit...when you don't even hold a motor-bike road licence !!

Adrian Coates spoke to Ballyclare rider Jamie Hamilton ahead of the practice sessions during race week at the NW200.

 

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Irish Riders Flying High

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NI Blogs Admin | 12:58 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Just reflecting on last night’s practice, we were so lucky that the weather was kind to us, with the worst of it being a bit of drizzle at the roundabout. Every time I looked up at the sky there was black clouds, but thankfully they didn't empty on us. Every practice session ran  without a hitch and the riders got a lot of laps in.

The evening seemed to go really well for Alastair Seeley, who finished fastest in two of the sessions and second in the other. Every time I looked at him he just had a big smile on his face and it appeared they didn’t even have to change a clicker on his bike. When things are going right for you everything seems to fall into place, and that’s how it is for Alastair at the minute at the North West. But things can change very quickly round here and it’s not as if he was miles ahead of everyone else, with Cameron Donald pipping him for fastest time in the Supersport and Michael Dunlop getting very close to him in the Superstock.

 

Alastair Seeley

 

 

On the other side of the garage Guy Martin seemed to be having a nightmare – he only got half a session in the Superbike practice and seemed to spend a lot more time in the garage during the session than on the track. But his team will have learned a lot from last night’s sessions and with the alterations he will have wanted made to the bike you can never rule Guy out come Saturday.

 

Dungannon’s Ryan Farquhar also had a tough evening’s work - the Superbike he was supposed to be getting wasn’t ready and so he has to run his Superstock bike in the Superbike class. He also only got two laps last night and had to pull in due to his clutch slipping. In the Supersport practice he ran out of time during the session after pulling in to alter the fuelling of the bike and by the time he was ready to go back out the session had finished.

 

Ryan Farquhar

 

Looking ahead to Thursday and we are hoping for blue skies for the next practice session. There are a few riders that will be looking to improve. Stuart Easton was having a lot of handling problems, so I would imagine his MSS Colchester Kawasaki team will have been burning the midnight oil to get to the root of the problem. On Thursday I would also expect strong showings from Farquhar and Bruce Anstey who seemed happy with his bike but was just unable get a clear lap.

Other riders that had good nights included Michael Rutter and his team mate Martin Jessopp who finished second and third in the Superbike class behind Alastair Seeley. Gary Johnson also had a good run in fourth and most impressive of all was Crumlin rider Steven Thompson being fifth fastest on his Superstock bike given that he is running his own team and his bike wouldn’t be as high a spec. Plus I can tell you Steven spent a lot of yesterday worrying about his day job as he was trying to organise plasterers!

It was an excellent start to the week and I have high hopes for a good number of Irish winners come Saturday.

McCallen's Debrief

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NI Blogs Admin | 21:04 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Well the first practice session has just finished and it has been a really good night for our Irish racers with Alastair Seeley and Michael Dunlop putting in some superb laps. It bodes well for their chances on Saturday. There are a lot of riders including Ryan Farquhar who are slightly disappointed tonight with mechanical gremlins. I feel some riders will have to make a lot of changes to their settings if they want to improve their performance on Thursday. So I think there will definitely be more of the favourites on the leader board come Thursday after they have made the required adjustments to their bikes.

The surprise to a lot of people was the strong performance of the veteran Michael Rutter who rolled back the years on his Ducati machine.

We had a good, safe night with the newcomers in general happy with their performances. BMW rider Simon Andrews couldn’t believe how much he enjoyed his first experience on the North West circuit. Safety wise it has been a good evening with thankfully no major incident to report.

The positive news tonight was that despite the dark skies it did stay dry and allowed the riders to get some fast laps in, to get their mind and machines adjusted to the high speeds and demands of the North West.

Tonight’s dry session and exciting action has put everyone in the mood for a great week’s racing ahead.


Safety in Newcomers

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NI Blogs Admin | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

This year’s NW200 has come round in a flash and I can’t wait for the action to get underway. This morning at 10am I got my various North West roles in position. I promise I don’t have much time to spare! I have three bosses here really – I work hard with events safety and the newcomers for Mervyn Whyte MBE, whilst my demanding media bosses are Greenlight TV and BBC online.

Safety has been the key message of the day, with it particularly important this year given the unpredictable weather conditions.  I work closely with technical director Mervyn Whyte as an ex rider passing on my experience with the aim of maximising safety for today’s riders. This year Steve Platter and myself have taken the newcomers round the track making them aware of what to look out for and what to avoid – hoping to make their first experience of the North West enjoyable and safe.

 

Phillip McCallen

 

 

I am going straight over to the track now and taking on the role of an instructor before the practice session. The newcomers are broken into four groups with an instructor for each group and they get five or six laps round the circuit.

As for the riders, I’m not sure what to take from the expressions on their faces today – some seen excited and couldn’t wait, whilst others had a look of apprehension to put it mildly! As for many of these guys it will be the first time they will have ever approached 200mph on a motorbike never mind on a public road, including Ballyclare man Jamie Robinson who doesn’t even have a road licence. As soon as I get off my bike with the newcomers it’s over to the commentary box to spread the North West message to the world.

For the riders in general my advice tonight is to take it easy, get their minds into focusing at 200mph, with their bikes set up and their racing lines prepared for Thursday evening.

I wish them well.

Wet Coates

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NI Blogs Admin | 16:10 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The grey skies over the North West paddock don't bode well for riders' preparation. We will just have to keep our fingers crossed that the rain can hold off until after tonight's practice. The paddock looks as busy as ever with everyone getting prepared for first night's practice. Teams will have to do their Michael Fish impersonation when it comes to predicting the weather, as tyre choice will be crucial. It will be particularly daunting for newcomers, gaining their first experience of the North West track will be a bum-clenching experience.

Even for the more experienced riders tyre choice will be critical. I see that teams are already moving their tyre racks armed with every kind of tyre under the sun mounted up and on warmers. Lets hope the power stays on.... unlike the BBC portacabin!

I was wandering around the paddock earlier, talking to a few of the guys. I had a good chat with a couple of local riders - first timer Jamie Hamilton and Steven Thompson. The nerves seemed to be building but I'm sure they will be gone as soon as the practice session starts and they get going. I'm expecting some good lap times straight off this evening if the conditions are dry for the start of the session, considering that come Thursday we could have heavier rain. It's not going to be one of those years where you have the luxury of bedding yourself in gently, knowing that the weather conditions will be great on Thursday and you can get your good laps in then.

 

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As we have seen on a number of occasions in the past, some top riders get caught out by the weather conditions and don't manage to qualify, meaning they have to be seeded at the back of the front group.

Cross everything for dry conditions.

McCallen Barges On

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NI Blogs Admin | 16:41 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

The barge, MV Confiance, currently residing at Lanyon Quay, Belfast was a familair mode of transport for one current road-racer, in the shape of the irrepressible Mr Guy Martin. The Lincolnshire rider's recent exploits on a barge for the BBC One hit: The Boat That Guy Built, meant it was no great shakes for him to climb aboard and make himself at home.

Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing riders Alastair Seeley and Guy Martin with Michael Rutter who will compete for Riders Bathams Ducati.

(l-r) TAS Suzuki riders Alastair Seeley and Guy Martin pose with Ducati pilot, Michael Rutter. Pic JPR-NI.

We cornered a home-grown legend to give us his tips for the podium places at this year's event. We did let him finish his 5  (yes that's 5...in one day) pieces of focaccia pizza bread (olives and tomato) before we lead him downstairs into the bowels of the barge to talk bikes.

 

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