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2017 Vauxhall International NW200: Review

What a week on the Antrim coast, so much sunshine with many overseas visitors and some new winners on the podium.

Checking into the Port Stewart Sunday afternoon was a task in itself. Normally fairly quiet the week before raceday, it seemed everybody within driving distance had converged to enjoy the sun and sights.

Fortunately we had pre-booked the Mermaid restaurant in Portrush complex. Enough time to chill with a great meal & bottle of wine before a big day briefing all our newcomers and of course the regular racers of the famous triangle circuit.

All of our 2017 newcomers put on a great show, not over stepping the mark, and wanting to return next year, plenty of banter and kept myself and Ben Wilson busy every day doing laps.

Tuesday practice the weather was once again more like Majorca than Northern Ireland, the only problem some of the guys getting a little too excited pushing hard and being too aggressive, enough that Race Director Mervyn Whyte, decided to give all a stiff talking to on Wednesday morning.

I missed the telling off as the annual charity golf match at Royal Portrush could not go ahead without my crooked style. A great day out again in brilliant sunshine but more importantly raising over £10k for the much needed NI Air Ambulance.

Wednesday evening we’d re-arranged the run-off area at Magherabuoy chicane as John McGuinness had complained that the area was too tight between the recticel bales. The new set-up worked perfectly with no other issues so I decided to go and watch at Mathers chicane during Thursday practice to check the run-off area there.

Unfortunately while watching I heard news of a crash through my earpiece at Primrose Hill, made me cringe as it’s not the best place to jump off. Soon after that the riders number……… 1 came through, John McGuinness. I jumped off the TV scaffold down to the marshals and medics trying for an update as the red flags came out.

With practice abandoned one of the passing medics cars collected me, in the back seat John’s pit-boarder and good friend Ian had been with him at the scene, talking but in considerable pain. Some serious injuries but fortunately not life threatening.

Later Thursday evening I watched all three races from Black Hill, the sun gets very low there in the evening so it was my job to inform the Clerk of the Course if I deemed it to be dangerous. Circuit specialist Alastair Seeley breaking down and the ever improving Martin Jessopp winning the first Supersport race, re-charged Michael Rutter breaking down from leading the first Superstock race handing Seeley another win and Jessopp doing the double bringing his Kawasaki home for another great win.

Saturday morning we heard that Honda had withdrawn from the days races until the cause of John’s crash can be identified.

Rain on Friday evening meant a damp start but the track dried for the first race, Supersport. Seeley once again dominated but as the Superbikes prepared for Race two the heavens opened. Now with the track being wet on the coast but bone dry at Ballysally nothing could happen as tyres would not last. Fortunately it rained again all round the circuit and once the laying water disappeared we allowed the big bikes get to work.

Once again Seeley dominated riding a great race in difficult conditions. With the surface drying we managed to get race three underway as the Supertwins do not have the power to destroy tyres, a wet tyre will last four laps in dry conditions. It was a belter of a race with Rutter taking his win tally to 14, not bad for a pensioner!

I requested we swapped last two races around as the track was still damp in places and with Superstock having treaded tyres they would handle any slight patchy areas. A decision was made between the Clerk of Course, Race Director & Vauxhall all agreed the seven lap Superbike race would be the closing race. Seeley once again won the Superstock race and all eyes were on the two Irish boys for honours in the Grand Finale.

The last Superbike race did not disappoint, Seeley and Irwin went at it hammer & tongue, fast, furious, but fair with nothing between them on the last lap. Seeley getting caught out slightly running down towards University touching the grass but made up enough time by church to re-take the lead. Irwin rode Black Hill perfectly getting a great run out-braking Seeley at Juniper to lead up the hill for the final chicane. I do believe Seeley could have muscled his way through there but decided to play safe taking second with Hutchy a very close third.

That will certainly go down as the best Superbike race of the last few years!

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