NW200 blog: Busy day despite no track action

Considering today (Friday) has been a day off at the North West 200, it’s been one hectic one, tinged with controversy.

This morning the stewards met to decide the formation of the superbike grid. When Steve Plater’s crash brought out the red flag in final Superbike qualifying it meant some riders were unable to get a flying lap in to secure a leading grid slot.

Protests were filed and initially rumours suggested than all of Thursday’s superbike times would be scrapped.

But the stewards decided the grid would formed by the best times from both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s – as per the meeting regulations. Most aggrieved by this were Michael Dunlop team since their rider who will start on the third row of the grid but felt robbed by the fact that they didn’t get a chance of a flying lap in the final few minutes because of the red flag.

Personally I don’t see the issue. At first it looked like some riders didn’t get a flying lap due to the system of setting riders off in waves as a safety measure – so that those starting later didn’t get the same amount of track time as those who started first.

But, according to the race organisers, it appears that some riders, including Dunlop, might not have taken full advantage of the allotted track time.
What surprised me though, was how long it took to actually reach a decision.

Ducati restrictors

The Riders team had already been forced to park up their Ducati v-twins due to an engine problem with Michael Rutter’s bike that they worried might manifest itself in Martin Jessopp’s bike.

But they had already run foul of the stewards, who it seems acting on a tip-off from a rival team, were not going to let them run without restrictor plates in the intakes – as per FIM rules which the event is run to.

The problem for the team was that the bikes in BSB spec don’t have to run the restrictors and they had not even considered it to be a problem – until the stewards informed them on Tuesday morning.

The issue dissolved with the team’s decision to pull the bikes on safety grounds but their hassle didn’t end there!

BMW brakes

This afternoon – after a lot of discussion - they’ve learned that a small piece of Perspex bolted to the fairing blister in front of the brake lever has been deemed illegal.

The team fitted it to get the brake lever out of the airflow.  Both Rutter and Jessopp (and it transpires, other BMW riders) discovered that the wind resistance at high speed has been applying the brake lever along the straights.

The heat generate is affecting the fluid so that when the rider arrives at the braking zone – travelling at 200mph – he suddenly finds the brake lever comes back to the handlebar and needs a couple of pumps to restore efficiency.

The perpex shields the lever and, as Rutter discovered, the problem went away. But the stewards won’t grant them dispensation to run it  - even on safety grounds, which seems a little bit naive to me, especially for an event that works so hard on the safety aspect of racing.

In the past teams have drilled slots in brake levers to overcome the issue but the problem the team have is that they are using stock, cast levers and are not confident in the integrity of the material once it has been drilled and cut. 

If the stewards stand by their decision, how can team boss Phil Jessopp send his riders into the race knowing they might suffer brake failure at any time – putting not only their lives in jeopardy, as well as other riders around them? And, how can the organisers live with that decision?

Imagine the consequences and reprecutions.
I’ve have the utmost respect for the NW200 organising staff who put on a fantastic show but it seems to me that a little common sense from the stewards in this situation would not go amiss.

I can see Riders withdrawing from the event and who, at the end of the day suffers? The fans.

Hopefully, by tomorrow, the situation will be resolved favourably……

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in Sport…

Gary Pinchin

By Gary Pinchin