Glenn Irwin took his sixth consecutive Superbike race win at the North West 200 on Saturday afternoon with the Honda Racing rider bagging a comfortable victory over Richard Cooper (Hawk Racing Suzuki) and Josh Brookes (MCE Ducati).
However, it was a rather depleted field that took to the line after Dunlop Tyres discovered a fault in a batch of their Superbike-spec slick tyres. On the grounds of safety, that meant several of the fancied riders withdrew from the race including Peter Hickman, Michael Dunlop, Davey Todd, Conor Cummins, Dean Harrison, Lee Johnston, Sam West and Brian McCormack.
That was of little concern to the rest of the field though and Irwin led Cooper, Ian Hutchinson (Milwaukee BMW) and Brookes around York Corner. The latter moved up to third at University after Hutchinson went straight on and at the end of the lap the running order was Irwin, Cooper, Brookes, John McGuinness (Honda Racing), James Hillier (RICH Energy OMG Racing Yamaha) and Michael Rutter (Bathams Racing BMW).
Irwin led Cooper by a second with Brookes two seconds further back and the leading trio were already more than seven seconds clear of fourth placed McGuinness. Hillier, meanwhile, was hit with a 10s penalty for overshooting the Juniper Chicane whilst Hutchinson crossed the line in eighth.
Irwin’s lead stayed at one second on lap two with Brookes dropping further back in third and although Hillier crossed the line in fourth, the penalty meant he was down in seventh on corrected time behind McGuinness, Rutter and Hutchinson.
The withdrawal of all the Dunlop runners meant only 22 runners started and as the laps were ticked off, it became a strung out affair but Irwin continued to press on and a third lap of 124.456mph enabled him to stretch his lead over Cooper to 2.3s. Further back, the order remained the same but Hutchinson was lapping almost 2s a lap quicker than Hillier and co and was steadily reeling them in.
Lap four saw Brookes overshoot University but such was his gap over the fourth place battle, he was able to rejoin still comfortably in third. It was now a four-way battle for fourth too with Hutchinson now latched on to the back wheel of Rutter. Meanwhile, Craig Neve, Phil Crowe and Lukas Maurer were running eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.
Hutchinson moved up to fourth on the fifth lap with Rutter following him past McGuinness at York Corner a lap later but the closing laps were uneventful affairs and Irwin eventually came home 2.4s clear of the excellent Cooper.
Brookes had a lonely ride into third for his third NW200 podium whilst Hutchinson just got the verdict for fourth from old sparring partner McGuinness. Hillier crossed the line in fifth but finished in sixth after his earlier penalty whilst Rutter finished seventh after losing ground on the final two laps. Crowe, Neve and Maurer completed the top ten.