There is little doubt the North West 200 is one of the most unusual - and most exciting - events in the motorcycle racing world and this year, the first for three years, was no exception.
It has also been a race meeting rarely free from challenge of one sort or another dating back to the days when local hero Dick Creith blew off rivals from across the water with a Manx Norton which, while not likely to win a beauty contest, was certainly the quickest down those long straights.
And the North West revival, attracting a monster crowd this past weekend, gave them plenty to talk about as they drove home on Saturday. On the upside some terrific racing with Glen Irwin notching up his sixth Superbike win in a row and Alastair Seeley’s treble taking him to an astonishing 27 NW 200 victories.
On the downside was the suspension of the rain interrupted Thursday programme; disqualifications which denied Richard Cooper a Supertwin double and, most serious of all, the tyre disaster when a some simply fell to bits causing Dunlop to withdraw its slicks, and therefore riders, from Saturday’s final Superbike race.
Other than ‘it was a bad batch’ there was no plausible explanation coming from any quarter other than the 8.9-mile circuit with its long straights and 30+°C track temperature did not suit this particular tyre. New outright lap record holder Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison, Conor Cummins, Davey Todd and Michael Dunlop did not make the grid.
Not only was the sun shining on Portrush, but good fortune was also playing its part as no serious injury was caused. Josh Brookes was showered with rubber while following Michael Dunlop and said: “I’ve never seen anything like that.” Davey Todd’s front exhaled all its wind as it split down the middle.
The bad batch theory did not wash with veteran sponsor Stuart Hicken who opined that the tyres had simply not received sufficient testing for that class of racing or the circuit.
Two days earlier the challenge was a more familiar one, the weather. It resulted in delays and the postponement of the first Superbike race as time ran out causing considerable argument between teams, riders and organisers.
Strong opinions were expressed later via social media questioning the competence of the organisers: ‘Why didn’t you just run shorter races?’ or ‘Why not race with those who do want to race?’ A justified response from the organisers might have been ‘It’s easy to be wise after the event…’
One of the critics was Ryan Farquhar, former road racer and now successful bike builder one of which the Kawasaki Supertwin which took Richard Cooper to a double victory until he was disqualified by the stewards of the meeting ‘because of a modification to the machines frame deemed to be against the rules.’ It is understood this followed a protest from the KTS team’s Simon Bleasdale and not rider Jamie Coward.
To say that Farquhar was spitting feathers would be an understatement. A legend in Irish road racing and a driving force behind Supertwin racing he claimed to have been using the frame on the Kawasaki for a number of years.
Cooper, a former National Superstock champion and recovering from a serious leg injury sustained at Donington two years ago, was distraught: “What I’ve been through since 2020 I can’t even describe and never did I think I would be standing on the podium again, never mind five times in one week.
“But my Supertwin pole position, lap record and two wins have been taken away from me. Congratulations to the team and rider who felt they needed to do this.”
Above all this was the entertainment provided for the huge crowd many of whom had arrived in what seemed like hundreds of caravans and motor homes perched on land overlooking both the circuit and the Atlantic resort of Portrush.
The contrast between the rain of Thursday and hot sun on Saturday could not have been more marked. This is a unique setting presenting lots of challenges for the team led by Mervyn Whyte, and its return was a triumph.