With four wins in the last four Superbike races, Glenn Irwin arrived at this year’s International North West 200 road races as the firm favourite – and two pole positions during Thursday’s qualifying sessions more than justified that tag.
The Superbike performance in particular, where he lapped some 1.8s inside Michael Dunlop’s 2016 outright lap record, confirmed his affinity with the 8.9-mile circuit and it could have been even better had the Honda Racing rider not ran out fuel on his next lap when going even quicker.
“I just love coming here for the racing and I love the area in general so I immediately felt at home when we got here on Sunday,” he said. “You could feel the atmosphere straightaway and after being glued to the weather forecast for two days, it was great to finally get out onto the circuit on Tuesday.”
The first qualifying sessions didn’t go as planned for the Carrickfergus man though with strong winds affecting the running of his Superbike-spec bike. The 50mph gusts were pushing against the clutch lever which, in turn, saw the electronics cut in.
“The winds were really strong and whilst it was obviously the same for every rider, it just wasn’t for me. When you’re doing 200mph you need to enjoy it and it wasn’t much fun on Tuesday. You’re more aware of everything and the roadside furniture suddenly feels that bit closer!”
Irwin switched to his BSB-spec bike on Thursday and with conditions far more favourable, he made it count. Starting off at the head of the field, he fully utilised the clear track in front of him, in both sessions, and was naturally delighted with two pole positions.
“The wind dropped and hats off to the team. We switched to the BSB-spec bike and it was bang on. The feeling was good straightaway so I just got my head down and to be almost two seconds under the lap record was incredible. The lap was special but the next one would have been magical as I was two seconds up in the first sectors only to run low on fuel.
“We tried both the hard and soft tyres across the qualifying sessions and there were lots of reasons to be pleased. I also worked a lot on my braking points and being consistent with them as they obviously play a big part in each lap around here.”
Irwin was equally pleased with the Superstock sessions, the first time he’d been out on the bike in real anger. Although he opted out of Thursday evening’s wet race, he’s well aware of its capabilities in the dry.
“We all know the Stock Honda is a phenomenal bike from what Tom (Neave) did last year and how the Honda riders are going this year in the Superstock Championship. We made a few changes after Tuesday and I have to adapt a bit when I’m on it as it’s a standard gearbox and the rpm’s different in the corners but you ride round the differences and get on with it.”
“It’ll probably be the toughest race but whilst I’m here to win the two Superbike races, the potential’s there to win three races on Saturday so I’ll be trying my ass off to do just that.”