The pure road racing scene is
in full swing now and when the middle of May comes around
you know that means one thing – the Kennedy Group
North West 200 is already upon us. As always, it’s
the first International road race of the year and the
organisers have excelled once more, assembling a mouth-watering
line-up of the finest road racing talent in the land.
With over 100,000 fans expected to make their way to
the Causeway Coast it promises to be a spectacular feast
of action and not one to be missed.
Race 1 – Superbike Race
Sponsored by DeWalt Performance Tools
Race 5 – NW200 Superbike Race
Sponsored by Black Horse Motorcycle Finance
The major players are out in force at the both the
beginning and the end of the day and it’s fair
to say it’s pretty wide open. In theory, the man
they all have to beat is Michael Rutter who has been
the dominant rider in recent year. The Stobart Motorsport
rider has found the going tough in British Superbike
Championship but he knows the Honda Fireblade well and
will hit the ground running as soon as practice gets
underway on Tuesday evening.
One thing that can be guaranteed is that he won’t
have it all his own way with a whole host of riders
queuing up to knock him of his pedestal. Heading the
challenge is the HM Plant Honda team of John McGuinness
and Steve Plater and the duo have been signed with one
thing in mind – success. McGuinness had a successful
test at Castle Combe and admitted he was delighted with
the performance of the Superbike whilst Plater is as
tough a competitor as they come and so will be going
all out for his first ever North West victory.
The TAS Suzuki team took a big blow with Ryan Farquhar’s
Cookstown crash but Bruce Anstey will be there and having
taken the feature race last year, he’ll be looking
for a repeat performance this time around. A replacement
rider for Farquhar had yet to be named at the time of
writing but Paul Hunt was the name which cropped up
the most and it would be great to see the big Manxman
on a fully competitive Superbike for the first time.
Rutter isn’t the only Stobart Honda rider to
be in contention with Ian Lougher sure to feature prominently.
The Welshman enjoyed some fine Spanish weather earlier
this year when testing the machine and is raring to
go this week. Martin Finnegan has had a great start
to the season and the Klaffi Honda will certainly have
the speed to challenge for honours so expect the Lusk
rider to be right in the thick of the action.
Early season revelation Cameron Donald had a great
debut 12 months ago and with the sensational form he
has shown at Cookstown and Tandragee he could prove
to be the dark horse on the Robinson Concrete Honda.
Les Shand will not want his teammate to grab all the
headlines and having not enjoyed himself on the short
circuits so far this season, this week will see him
fired up for some good results.
Yamaha have at least three major chances of success
with Adrian Archibald, Guy Martin and Raymond Porter.
Archibald appears to be a rejuvenated man at Team Racing
and will be hoping for at least one podium on the day
whilst Martin makes his eagerly awaited debut on the
AIM Racing Superbike, having only appeared at Scarborough
so far this year. Porter has returned from injury and
looks in fine form so expect the Lifford man to be in
amongst the works riders on his JD’s entered machine.
Ian Hutchinson heads Kawasaki’s efforts on the
McAdoo Racing ZX-10 machine and has already taken a
win at Cookstown. One of the most talented youngsters
in the road race scene, Hutchy will be looking for top
six finishes at least. Carl Rennie adds to the Kawasaki
challenge although the Hawk Racing rider will most probably
be using the event as a high-speed practice session
in preparation for the TT.
There’s a whole clutch of privateers looking
to get in amongst the factory boys with the strongest
performances likely to come from Stephen Thompson, Rob
Frost, James McBride, Mark Buckley, Phil Stewart, Mark
Parrett, Tim Poole and Roger Maher whilst Nigel Beattie,
John Barton, Conor Cummins, Paul Duckett and David Madsen-Mygdal
represent the Isle of Man. Chris Palmer is hoping to
be out on the exotic MV Agusta although a delay in shipment
may mean he has to use his Superstock machine.
Other Irish riders who are sure to go well include
the JD’s pair of John Donnan and Ken Doherty,
DMRR Racing duo Davy Morgan and Keith Stewart (who makes
his return from injury), the impressive John Burrows,
Victor Gilmore, Paul Cranston, Keith Stewart, Denver
Robb, Adrian McFarland, Alistair Seeley and Dwyer Agnew.
Meanwhile, Seamus Greene returns to the International
scene on Martin Bullock’s Suzuki whilst William
Dunlop will be out on the Lilley Suzuki and Ryan Rainey
hopes to be fit to ride the ex-Martin Finnegan Vitrans
Circuit newcomer Mark Miller, on the 750cc TAS Suzuki,
heads the overseas entry and the former Macau GP podium
finisher will be well worth watching as will exciting
Belgian runner Michael Weynand. They are joined by Daniel
Jansen, Paul Dobbs, David Parades, Walter Cordoba, Patrick
van Gils, Karsten Schmidt, Frank Spenner and Alfred
Race 2 – Supersport 600cc
Sponsored by Club SOI, Portrush
Race 6 – Junior 600cc
Sponsored by the Ballymoney Borough Council
The 600cc races are always closely fought and this
Saturday should prove to be exception. The riders competing
will find these the hardest to win and whoever gets
the victor’s champagne will most definitely have
The usual suspects are again out in force and there
are at least a dozen riders in with a shout. Raymond
Porter and Ryan Farquhar shared the wins last year and
although Farquhar is a non-starter, Porter lines up
once more on Yamaha machinery and is sure to be in the
There are plenty of riders keen to have a say about
that though with John McGuinness on Eugene Laverty’s
600cc Honda, albeit in HM Plant Honda colours, sure
to be at the sharp end of the results. Ian Lougher will
be on the Black Horse Motorcycle Finance Honda along
with protégé Mark Buckley whilst Martin
Finnegan has the Klaffi/Alpha Boilers Honda at his disposal.
Uel Duncan’s impressive outfit has no less than
four riders out in this one in the shape of Steve Plater,
Cameron Donald, Les Shand and Stephen Thompson, all
potential race winners.
Bruce Anstey will again lead the Suzuki challenge but
Callum Ramsay has been drafted in as his teammate for
this one and the Perth rider’s record around the
8.9-mile circuit is second to none. Adrian Archibald
and Guy Martin are again out on Yamaha’s and it
will be interesting to see how the new R6 performs around
the high-speed circuit.
Ian Hutchinson should be the best of the Kawasaki-mounted
riders although Rob Frost comes to the line with the
CD Racing machine and will have something to say about
that. Darran Lindsay made a successful return to racing
at Scarborough just over a week ago and should feature
on his Donut Tree Honda, as should John Burrows and
the DMRR Honda’s of Davy Morgan and Keith Stewart.
Stuart Easton brings his Lloyds British Ducati with
him and although his only other visit in 2004 wasn’t
all that spectacular, the little Scot is in fine form
and many of the established stars are tipping the 24-year
old as one to watch. Young teammate Martin Jessopp makes
his debut whilst fellow British Championship regular
Matt Layt makes a welcome return.
As to be expected there is once again a strong Irish
contingent in the field, most notably the remaining
JD’s duo of John Donnan and Ken Doherty, William
Dunlop, Alistair Seeley, Barry Maguire, Denver Robb,
Damien Mulleady, Dwyer Agnew, Victor Gilmore, Yarno
Holland, Barry Davidson, Darren Burns and Neil McWhirter.
Chris Palmer and Paul Hunt always perform well in Ireland
with Nigel Beattie expected to be further forward this
year in what will be his third appearance at the North
West. Bob Grant, Kevin Mawdsley, Paul Owen, Tim Poole,
Carl Rennie, John Barton, Mark Parrett, Garry Dickinson
and Roger Maher add to a simply superb line-up with
Anita Buxton and Maria Costello representing the ladies.
Mainland Europe is also represented with the strongest
performers likely to be Stefano Bonetti, Manfred Vogl,
Fabrice Miguet and Daniel Jansen. Other overseas entries
have been received from Paul Dobbs and Frank Spenner.
A late entry has been received by ace German Supersport
rider Rico Penzkofer and he could well be one of the
finds of the meeting. One of the most interesting entries
has come from Jay Bellers-Smith, the young Welshman
returning after his career threatening accident in 2004.
Race 3 – 250cc
Sponsored by Greenline Hire
After a 5-year absence, the 250’s made a welcome
return to the North West 200 last year and with no less
than 36 entries having been received this time around,
another close race will be guaranteed.
Last year’s winner Davy Morgan is absent from
the entry list but Sammy Dobson and Darren Burns, who
finished 2nd and 3rd respectively 12 months ago, are
back for more and will be aiming for the top spot on
Saturday. Nigel Beattie was cruelly robbed of the win
last year when his Honda expired but with the Mannin
Collections team having purchased a new machine for
the Laxey rider, he goes into the race as one of the
two main favourites, the other being Darran Lindsay.
Having taken the 125cc win last year, the Lisburn rider
will be now gunning for the 250cc accolade on the Roy
Hanna Motors Honda.
forum regular Garry Dickinson will also be in the hunt,
having experienced good times at the Triangle, and now
fully fit, he will be hoping for another good day. German
rider Benny Jerzenbeck will be out on Norman Rank’s
TSR Honda, which should be one of the quickest machines
out on the grid and if he gets back to grips with the
circuit, he is another rider worth watching.
The class continues to flourish in Ireland and other
riders expected to challenge include Denver Robb, Yarno
Holland, Trevor Keys, Barry Davidson, Victor Gilmore,
David Mateer, Andrew Courtney, Ian Morrell, David Guiney,
Robert McCrum and Ryan McCay. Michael Dunlop makes his
International debut in this race on the KZ Yamaha.
Veteran 250cc rider Derek Welch should go well and
the Kidsgrove rider is always immaculately turned out
so his Yamaha will be right in the mix. Paul Owen will
be looking for another strong finish as will fellow
250cc advocates Alan ‘Bud’ Jackson, Rich
Grinling, Kevin Strowger and Bruce Dunn. Phil Harvey
forsakes his regular 125cc class for an outing on the
FSD/Com Yamaha whilst Rico Mendel and Freddie Belterhelm
add to the German challenge.
Race 3a – 125cc/400cc
Sponsored by WRT Group PLC
If the 250cc race is going to be close then the same
can be said for their two-stroke counterparts, the 125’s.
With last year’s winner Darran Lindsay out of
the equation, there’ll be a first-time winner
in 2006 and there’s a whole host of riders hoping
it’s their name on the victor’s trophy at
the end of the 5 laps.
Michael Wilcox has been on the podium for the last
three years, and the Lincolnshire rider currently leads
the British Championship so he comes to Northern Ireland
on a crest of a wave, Nothing would be make him more
happier than a North West win and with his own sponsor
backing the race, it would be a great day for the Slim
Racing team if it were to happen. Another likely winner
is Chris Palmer who will be on the Lloyds/TSB/Mannin
Honda and they’ll be hoping he can do the business
here and Nigel Beattie the same in the 250cc class.
Robert Dunlop is back and hungry for further success,
clearly highlighted by his Tandragee victory but son
William is equally capable of securing the win so one
of these four riders should take the win. Nigel Moore
and Marc Curtin are bound to be in contention whilst
Paul Robinson should also be in the frame. Throw in
the likes of David Lemon, Mark Lunney, David Ferguson,
Trevor Ritchie, Tim Stott, Sam Dunlop and Jeff Shaw
and it’s easy to see why this one will be fiercely
fought out. Finland’s Jari Laahanen represents
mainland Europe whilst a dark horse for success could
be Callum Ramsay although there is a question mark over
the Scot’s participation now that he has secured
the TAS ride.
The concurrently run 400cc race is also completely
wide open with at least half a dozen potential race
winners. John Burrows was the best performer 12 months
ago and his early season form has been superb so he
goes into the event as a slight favourite. Isle of Man
veteran David Madsen-Mygdal is sure to be near the front
of the pack with the likeliest of challenges coming
from Bob Grant, Mark Parrett, Steve Linsdell, Matt Layt,
Paul Dobbs, Roger Maher, Julian Bull, Mark Castle and
Chris McGahan. A surprise name on the entry list is
Alex Donaldson and if the Limavady rider comes under
starters orders, the race win could be his.
Anita Buxton and Maria Costello again represent the
females whilst Alfred Stark, Frank Spenner and Renzo
van der Donkt add to the International flavour.
Race 4 – Superstock race
Sponsored by CP Hire Ltd
Ian Lougher came out on top in this race last year,
just holding off Bruce Anstey (the same pair also disputing
the win in 2004) and the Welshman will be looking for
a repeat performance on the Black Horse Motorcycle Finance
Honda. He always excels in this class of racing and
his outing at Scarborough showed that he’s as
sharp as ever.
Anstey will be keen to avenge last year’s defeat
and lines up once more on the TAS Suzuki giving Suzuki
their best chance of glory. His teammate is yet to be
confirmed but if Paul Hunt gets the nod, the Braddan
rider will definitely be in the hunt.
John McGuinness is currently lying in third place in
the British Superstock Championship so should feature
prominently on his regular mount although the lack of
top speed may hinder the Honda, a similar concern expressed
by Les Shand. Cameron Donald gets his first outing of
the year on the John Harris Honda with Martin Finnegan
doing similar on the Klaffi Superstock Honda.
Guy Martin looked in fine form at Scarborough on the
Superstock machine before mechanical woes struck but
he was happy with the R1 and should have a strong race,
as will Adrian Archibald on the identical Team Racing
machine. Raymond Porter and Ken Doherty are also Yamaha-mounted
as are James McBride, Adrian McFarland, Mark Parrett,
Damien Mulleady, Declan Swanton, and Conor Cummins.
British Superstock regular Ryan Rainey will be hoping
his leg injuries sustained at Thruxton have healed sufficiently
for him to mount a serious challenge whilst Stephen
Thompson will also be hoping for an upturn in fortunes.
Rob Frost goes on the CD Racing Honda with Ian Hutchinson
and Carl Rennie leading the Kawasaki charge on their
McAdoo and Hawk Racing machines.
Davy Morgan and Keith Stewart will again be out on
the DMRR Racing Honda’s whilst Kevin Mawdsley,
Phil Stewart, Mark Parrett, Keith Amor, James Edmeades
are other riders worth watching. Denver Robb, Paul Cranston,
Seamus Greene, John Anderton, Barry Maguire, Robert
McCrum, Damien Mulleady and Liam Quinn add to the Irish
American rider Mark Miller is out in this one and is
worth keeping an eye on whilst Stefano Bonetti and Michael
Weynand should be two of the best overseas riders here.
They are backed up by Karsten Schmidt, Fabrice Miguet,
Patrick van Gils, Daniel Jansen, Frank Spenner, Axel
Rauch and the Argentinian pairing of Walter Cordoba
and David Parades.
So, there you have it. It goes without saying that
the North West 200 is an event not to be missed and
Mervyn Whyte and his team have once again done a terrific
job in assembling such a vast array of talent. There
are simply too many riders to list here, all of whom
will be giving 100% on race day and we’re sorry
we can’t give them all a mention. The meeting
continues to go from strength to strength, the crowd
gets bigger, the speeds faster and the racing closer
– what more could you possibly want?!!
We would like to wish all competitors and officials
the very best of luck and hope that they, along with
the thousands of spectators, have a safe and enjoyable
week’s racing – and we get some good weather!
And don’t forget to buy that programme, it helps
secure the event for the years ahead!