NW200: Michael Dunlop dominates opening practice

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Michael Dunlop continued his meteoric start to the 2013 season by setting the fastest time in the Superbike class during the opening practice for the Vauxhall International North West 200 today.

The Honda TT Legends rider, who dominated the recent Cookstown and Tandragee road races, was a massive 7.6 seconds faster than second placed Bruce Anstey on the HM Plant/Padgett’s Honda.

The Ballymoney man was strangely subdued afterwards and he voiced amazement at how far in front of the rest of the field his time was.

‘When you are that far in front there is something not right.’ he said.

The morning began with a wet track after a series of blustery showers and the rain started to fall just as the Superbikes came to the grid. It made conditions tricky as parts of the track were wet and others were bone dry.

Several riders, including Dunlop, did one lap and then pulled into the pits to wait until conditions improved but the 24 year old still had his problems before setting the provisional pole time at half distance.

‘I couldn’t see where I was going because Martin Jessopp blew up in front of me and covered my screen in oil.’ Michael explained. ‘I had to keep my head above the bubble for most of the time. But I’m happy enough, we are on the front two rows in every class if it rains on Thursday.’

Flying Kiwi Bruce Anstey had already posted second fastest time in the Supersport session before he finished behind Dunlop on the big bike as well laps.

‘The bikes feel good but I was out on my own most of the time so I didn’t get much to compare with.’ the nine times North West winner said afterwards.’ But I don’t think that we are too far off, it’s been a good start.’

Finding his braking markers was the main problem newcomer Josh Brookes found on his first sighting of the 8.9 mile circuit. But it didn’t prevent him setting an astonishing fourth fastest time in the premier class. The Australian BSB star had a baptism of fire when the opening newcomers’ session was run in heavy rain.

‘On those opening laps I was thinking, Jeez what have I let myself in for here.’ the Tyco Suzuki rider laughed afterwards. ‘But it was a lot drier for the Superbike session and I really enjoyed my first experience of road racing.’

At one stage the Bringelly man was actually the fastest rider on track for two laps running.

‘Station corner was very intimidating and I did struggle with finding my braking markers. But I spent two laps out on track with William Dunlop and I am learning all the time.’

Last year’s treble winner Alastair Seeley had a nightmare start to his 2013 campaign when his Gear Link Kawasaki suffered a holed radiator in the Supersport session and his MSS Kawasaki ZX10 superbike lost power on the run down to Coleraine.

‘I must have broken a mirror last night.’ The Carrickfergus man said ruefully afterwards. ‘ We will be up against it now, especially trying to get the Superbike set up, so we need a dry run on Thursday.’

The Wee Wizard had the consolation of taking Superstock pole in a shortened session after a lengthy delay caused by an oil spill near University.

‘I just stayed out in that session and the bike felt comfortable.’ he said. ‘If all the rest of the bikes had kept going I’m sure I’d have been at the sharp end in those classes too.’

‘Morecambe Missile’ John McGuinness set down the opening marker in the Supersport class in what was a good day for the HM Plant/Padgett’s squad on their debut in the new orange and black livery.

‘Yeah I was going alright.’ the 19 times TT winner said with some understatement afterwards. ‘People sometimes forget that I can ride a 600! It is a good bike but the conditions were a bit iffy with wet patches all over the place.’

Another veteran who came out tops on the day was Grand Prix legend Jeremy McWilliams who set fastest time on the Vauxhall KMR Kawasaki ER6 in the Supertwins. Describing himself as ‘under 50’ last year’s runner up in the event headed fellow KMR man Michael Rutter by just 0.162 sec in what was his first dry lap of the Triangle course.

‘This was a fun day and I really enjoyed it.’ Jeremy smiled afterwards. ‘I was happy that I could go so fast in the dry because I didn’t get any dry runs last year. I am still struggling with my braking markers and I overshot Magherabouy but I today gave me more confidence and I know that I can go faster.’

The second practice session will take place on Thursday with roads closing at 9.30 am until 2.30pm. Racing will commence with three races on Thursday evening after roads close at 5.15pm. Roads close on Saturday at 10am with five races culminating in the feature Vauxhall Superbike race.

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Stephen Davison

By Stephen Davison

Biographer of John McGuinness & road racing's foremost writer & photographer