At one stage during Saturday’s North West 200 it looked like Alastair Seeley might have to be content with just his Thursday Superstock race win on the Tyco TAS Suzuki.
In the first Supersport race William Dunlop was in control until he made a mistake at Juniper. That allowed Seeley to close in on the rapid Wilson Craig Honda and the gap was just 0.7s as the pair of them started the last lap – only for the red flags to come out after Guy Martin crashed heavily.
That gave Dunlop the victory. It was Wilson Craig’s first international win as a team owner. Seeley finished second.
Next was the first Superbike race and this time Seeley led until he ran off at Church and had to do a three-point turn to rejoin the track down in 11th place. That left John McGuinness in control on the TT Legends Honda. Seeley fought back to second.
Seeley eventually crossed the line first - in the Superstock race after a great scrap with Ryan Farquhar, James Hillier and John McGuinness but Michael Rutter won the race on a Bathams Kawasaki after starting from the fourth row of the second wave following problems in practice. Seeley finished second again.
But there was no mistake from the man they call the ‘Wee Wizard’ in the Supersport race, thought it took a controversial pass on William Dunlop at Church to ensure victory.
And to cap his day, he dominated the NW200 feature superbike race to claim his third win of the meeting.
This year’s North West 200 was plagued by cold wet weather in practice and Thursday’s two races were held in far from ideal conditions.
The Superstock race brought a fine performance by Lee Johnston on the Millsport Ducati Panigale. He finished second to Seeley, proving that the v-twin can be a competitive racing motorcycle out of the box with the Marelli electronics the bike was designed around, even if it’s not in BSB form with a Motec system required by the championship rules!
The inaugural Supertwins race produced a fascinating scrap between Ryan Farquhar, NW200 rookie Jeremy McWilliams (both on wets) and Michael Rutter (on dry tyres) in the damp but drying conditions.
All three bikes were built by Farquhar but racing though the field proved the class has a future and NW200 supremo Mervyn Whyte is already talking of adding a second Supertwins race on the Saturday of the 2013 programme.
By Saturday, the Triangle was blessed with sunshine – the first in three years on the big race day - and the huge number of fans were treated to an amazing day’s racing plus some interesting indicators for the 2012 TT that starts this coming weekend.
The Wilson Craig Hondas are seriously competitive this year and both William Dunlop and Cameron Donald were on the pace at the North West. William could spring some big surprises on the Island – and not just in the Supersport race where most expect him to do well.
But Donald is on it too and both riders seem more than happy with the revamped team structure.
Michael Dunlop however faces a mountain of work on his McAdoo-backed bikes prior to the TT. His 600 Suzuki was hopelessly uncompetitive in Ireland.
His superstocker broke – either engine or electronics possibly the cause. And his Honda superbike lacked top end though Michael is not so concerned that will be such an issue on the more flowing Mountain course.
Gary Johnson might be in the same boat though. He spent a lot of time working on his Lincs Lifting/Callmac Honda CBR600 but was never fully on the pace. And he wasn’t comfortable on the Padgetts Honda superbike or his own stocker that he races in National Superstock for that matter.
While Seeley was the man to beat at the North West, the Tyco TAS Suzuki team must be wondering about their TT chances after Guy Martin suffered a massive confidence shattering crash in the NW200 supersport race and was forced to miss the rest of the event.
Team-mate Conor Cummins didn’t have a supersport bike at the NW but seemed to be settling in with his two 1000cc bikes with seventh in Superstock, eighth in the first Superbike but it all went a bit pear-shaped when he got scooped up in a Gary Johnson/Martin Jessop crash at Mathers and injured the back of his hand. The team are confident he’ll race at the TT.
Bruce Anstey was always thereabouts on the Padgetts Hondas but only managed to break into the podium places with third in the second Supersport race. Don’t be ruling him out for the TT though.
James Hillier was one of the sensations of the North West – especially finishing third in Saturday’s Superstock race (after being sixth in Thursday’s race) and sixth in the Superbike on the Pr1Mo Bournemouth Kawasakis. He was also fourth in Supertwins and will be even more competitive on the Island.
Simon Andrews, shouldn’t be underestimated – even if he is coming back from serious leg injury. He finished fourth in the second Superbike race on the TT Legends Honda – in what was effectively his first NW200, after practicing last year before the races were called off due to bad weather.
Ian Hutchinson didn’t figure in the NW200 results but quietly got on with the task of setting the Swan Yamahas up ready for the TT. Don’t read too much into the NW200 but it still seems hard to believe he can be truly competitive with so little seat time due to his injuries.
Despite there being so many positives to take from at this year’s North West, the event was marred by the death of Mark Buckley who crashed in Saturday’s Superstock race and later succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
Buckley, 35 years old from Loch Lomond, Scotland, crashed close to Millbank Avenue, Portstewart on the first lap of the race. No other riders were involved in the incident.
The director of the North West 200 event, Mervyn Whyte, said: "We are devastated by the new of Mark’s death. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jayne and we extend our deepest sympathies to the entire family circle.”
Buckley was racing for the Splitlath Redmond Aprilia in preparation for the TT where he was also to race a Gearlink Kawaski in the supersport races.
A statement issued by the Splitlath team added: "Mark joined the team last month to contest the Isle of Man TT and other road races. An experienced road racer, the North West 200 was one of his favourite events on the calendar.
"Mark was a rider who always had a smile on his face and, although he was new to the Splitlath Redmond outfit, he had already made a lot of friends within the team.
"He was a man who was always positive, with an infectious sense of humour and a rider who cared deeply about his colleagues and others.
"Mark will be missed by everyone at Splitlath Redmond and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jayne, his family and friends."