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.
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.
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
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.
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 (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??