Get Ready For The 2018 North West 200

Look out for top riders at new teams and old rivalries rekindled

North West 200
Michael Rutter (Bathams BMW), Glenn Irwin (PBM Ducati), and Alastair Seeley (Tyco BMW) on the grid.Stephen Davison

Grab your pint of bitter and your tumbler of whiskey; it’s time for the 2018 North West 200.

Since 1929, the race in Northern Ireland has been one of the most important meetings on the roadracing calendar. Situated about 50 miles northwest of Belfast, the 8.9-mile course, known as The Triangle, is hallowed ground for the roadracing enthusiast. Since day one, motorcycle racing’s luminaries—Stanley Woods, Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, and Joey Dunlop (to name just a few)—have battled bar to bar, leaving rubber and dreams of glory on the coastal tarmac.

While the Ulster Grand Prix may be the cradle of Irish roadracing—and was once a part of the grand prix calendar—the North West 200 has historically served as a dress rehearsal for the Isle of Man TT. Riders will size each other up, teams will establish their chemistry, and machines will be tested for reliability and competitiveness.

Unlike the TT, where riders set off independently at 10-second intervals, the North West is run like a conventional race with competitors setting off simultaneously and fighting over the same patch of asphalt. Elbow to elbow, tire to tire, rival to rival: it’s motorcycle racing at its best. Plus, it’s often the only chance to catch TT rivals sparring in such close quarters.

For 2018, there will be no shortage of competitors sizing each other up on the eve of the TT. Here are a few of the main players:

Michael Dunlop
Michael Dunlop looking optimistic during the first practice session.Stephen Davison

Michael Dunlop: The Ballymoney man is a local boy whose history will forever be tied to the North West. After last year's ride on the Bennetts Suzuki, Dunlop returns to BMW, this time riding for Phillip and Hector Neill's Tyco squad in the Superbike class. We know BMW and Dunlop are a formidable pairing. With the TAS team behind him, Dunlop will be a powerhouse. He'll also be campaigning his own MD Racing BMW in Superstock and MD Racing Honda in Supersport.

Ian Hutchinson: Hutchy is back after another horrific injury, suffered during last year's Senior TT. Hutchinson's career is characterized by tragedy and triumph; it's also characterized by his bitter rivalry with Michael Dunlop. Roadracing fans await to see if Hutchy will be fit enough to bring the fight to Dunlop, who now occupies Hutchy's old seat at Tyco BMW. In Supersport, Hutchinson will be reunited with Clive Padgett's Honda outfit that carried him to five TT wins in 2010. In Superbike and Superstock, he'll be fielding the Fireblade for Honda Racing. Honda also has something to prove after the 2017 Fireblade had a disastrous outing at the North West and the TT last year.

Michael Dunlop
Is Michael Dunlop on course for another impressive TT performance? He’ll certainly be grabbing the Tyco BMW by the scruff of the neck in preparation for the Snaefell Mountain course.Stephen Davison

Lee Johnston: The diminutive Northern Irish rider has thrown down the gauntlet early at the North West, claiming top spot in early practice. Johnston, a three-time North West winner, joins Hutchinson in the Honda Racing and Padgett squads. Johnston is in a prime spot to stake his claim as a potential threat in all classes at the North West and at the TT. He's fully fit after a get-off at Greeba during a practice session at last year's TT. Expectations are high.

Dan Kneen: The Manxman will be campaigning a Tyco BMW in Superbike and Superstock and a Jackson Honda CBR in Supersport. Filling in for the injured Hutchinson at last year's Ulster GP, Kneen finished on the podium—enough to secure a Tyco ride for 2018.

Alastair Seeley: Seeley, hailing from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, is an odds-on favorite given his unmatched record of 21 victories at the North West. Plus, he'll be racing with the Neill's stacked Tyco BMW squad for the seventh year. The TAS team has won at the North West an impressive 26 times and it's clear it has high hopes for 2018 with a stellar team of riders and a proven machine.

James Hillier: Company man Hillier returns to his Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki, ready for another good showing at the North West. He'll look to improve upon his five top-10 finishes at last year's event.

Michael Rutter and Dean Harrison
Michael Rutter and Dean Harrison on the grid.Stephen Davison

A host of other potential winners include Dean Harrison, who returns to his Silicone Engineering Kawasaki seat; Peter Hickman, the fastest-ever newcomer at the North West in 2014; Michael Rutter, a 14-time winner; Glenn Irwin, last year’s Ducati-mounted Superbike winner; and Conor Cummins (“fastest coffee shop owner in history”), once again on a Padgett’s Honda.

Unfortunately sidelined this year are 23-time TT winner John McGuinness and the evergreen Kiwi, Bruce Anstey. Still coping with injuries sustained during last year’s North West, McGuinness is sitting this one out due to “a setback,” presumably in the healing process. Earlier this year, the longtime Honda man announced his switch to Norton machinery and a perusal of social media suggests he’s still planning to tear down Bray Hill in a couple weeks time.

Anstey, on the other hand, will be out of both the North West and the TT, as he prepares for treatment for cancer. The Flying Kiwi will be sorely missed this year and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Stay tuned for race results.