North West 200: Alastair Seeley tops superbike and supersport qualifying but Michael Rutter takes superstock plaudits

The two North West veterans topped all three timesheets but it was Rutter's superstock time that stood out on the first day of practice

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The Independent Online

Alastair Seeley showed no signs of easing his stranglehold over the North West 200 after setting the pace in on the first day of qualifying to top both the superbike and supersport classes, though he could not make it a practice hat-trick in the superstock category.

The 17-time North West winner has won more races around the Northern Ireland road circuit than anyone else, and the 37-year-old – nicknamed the “Wee Wizard” for his slight build – proved once again that he will be the man to beat in this week’s races, which get underway on evening.

Seeley topped the blue-ribbon superbike class with a 4:25.100 lap time at an average speed of 121.811mph, more than a second and a half faster than his nearest challenger in Michael Rutter. What will please Rutter though is that he managed to lap the Bathams BMW superstock even faster than Seeley’s superbike managed, with the West Midlands native clocking a 4:24.634 to push Seeley back into second by just 0.141s, ahead of the BMW of Lee Johnston.

Tuesday’s qualifying times rarely decide who triumphs in the week’s races, but what will be cause for concern for the rest of the field is that Seeley believes he can – and will – go even faster.

"We didn't go for an out-and-out lap on the Superbike today," said Seeley, who was bumped off the front in the superstock class by 45-year-old veteran Rutter.

Behind Seeley and Rutter came Isle of Man TT favourites Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson on the Hawk Racing Suzuki and the Tyco BMW respectively, with the pair expected to be right in the mix for victories this week as they finalise their preparations for the TT in three weeks’ time, while the top five was rounded out by British Superbike star Glenn Irwin on the Be Wiser Ducati.

Michael Rutter set the fastest time of the day across all classes on his superstock (Facebook/The International North West 200)

Honda’s struggles to get to grips with the new Fireblade continued with John McGuinness down in seventh, seven seconds slower than Seeley, and the returning Guy Martin way down in 19th. The former Tyco BMW rider took last year out from road racing to recover from serious injuries sustained at the 2015 Ulster Grand Prix and focus on other commitments that included TV work and the Tour Divide cycling race, but returns this year with the Honda Racing factory team and his sights set firmly on winning his first TT.

Two years ago, Martin made a strong of not-so-flattering comments about the North West 200 track and in particular the chicanes that break up the long straights, on which speeds top 200mph. This time around, the Lincolnshire native kept hush on the event itself, though made clear that his attentions lie elsewhere as he gets to grips with his new bike.

Guy Martin struggled for pace on his return to the North West 200 (Facebook/The International North West 200)

“It’s a means to an end,” Martin said of his attendance. "If I want to race the TT, I need some signatures. That's the only reason I'm here.” Martin secured a late deal to ride the Wilson Craig Honda in the supersport class, though was well off the pace in all three categories as he finished 16th in the 600 cc’s and 15th in superstock.

With no racing on Wednesday, riders will get another chance to practice on Thursday before racing begins from 17:00, with the main day’s action taking place on Saturday.