A stellar line-up of road racing talent was on parade in front of a full house at the Titanic in Belfast for the 2016 Vauxhall International North West 200 Meet the Riders event.
15 times winner NW200 winner, Alastair Seeley, led the cast of stars that included John McGuinness, Michael Rutter, William Dunlop, Ryan Farquhar, Conor Cummins, Jeremy McWilliams, Lee Johnston, Dan Kneen and Peter Hickman, Jamie Hamilton, who finished on the podium in the 2014 Supertwins race at the North West before being seriously injured in a Senior TT crash, also made a special appearance.
Over a thousand fans and the race sponsors packed the Titanic suite to hear Event Director, Mervyn Whyte, announce significant changes to the race organisation for 2016.
“I think everyone would like to see the racing getting underway faster so we are making some changes to the grid management to speed things up.” Whyte told the huge audience.
“Most importantly, we will run two groups instead of three in each race this year.”
These new measures, that will see two rather than three waves of riders and machines taking part in the sighting laps and race starts, should see Thursday evening’s three race programme and Saturday’s five events completed in less time.
Whyte also announced upgrades to the race communications for this year’s event.
“We want to keep riders, teams and fans up to date with everything that is going on so there will be an extra big screen put in place at the start and finish area and more speakers deployed around the course for the PA system.” he explained.
“We also want to encourage everyone to bring their radios and tune into BBC Radio Ulster’s brilliant live coverage on practice and race days so they will know exactly what is happening.”
On the racing front, Ballyclare youngster, Glenn Irwin was the sensation of the 2015 North West 200, finishing on the podium in Saturday’s Supersport race on the Gear Link Kawasaki in his debut at the meeting. That performance helped the 28 year old secure a ride with Paul Bird’s PBM Ducati squad in the British Superbike championship but ironically his involvement with that series may now see him ruled out of this year’s NW200.
Should Irwin not compete at Portrush in May, it is understood he will be replaced on the Cookstown Burrows Engineering Kawasaki in the Supertwin races by Peter Hickman.
The JG Speedfit Kawasaki BSB star is the fastest ever newcomer at the North Coast event and the winner of the 2015 Macau Grand Prix would add extra spice to both Supertwins events.
“I have known Glenn a long time and I think he could win the NW200 Supertwins race but if he can’t ride because of his BSB commitments it would be great to have Peter on the bike at the North West as well as the TT.” team boss Burrows explained.
Whether Irwin or Hickman rides the Burrow’s bike they will face stern competition from fellow Dungannon man, Ryan Farquhar’s, KMR Kawasaki squad. Farquhar and teammate Jeremy McWilliams won the two Twins races at last year’s event and the duo will be joined by newcomer, Danny Webb and Canadian rider, Darren James on the orange and black liveried ER6s this May.
With Bruce Anstey chasing a phenomenal sixteenth consecutive season of finishing on the podium at the North West 200 and ‘Wee Wizard’ Alastair Seeley focussed on securing a 16th win that would see him become the event’s most successful rider ever, the 2016 Vauxhall International North West promises to be a mouthwatering spectacle for road racing fans.