North West 200 2016: Steve Plater on the prospects for the 2016 races
NORTH WEST 200 INTERNATIONAL ROAD RACES
- Tuesday 10 May to Saturday 14 May
- All practices and races live on the BBC Sport website and on BBC Radio Ulster; Highlights on BBC1 NI on Friday 13 May, Sunday 15 May and Monday 16 May.
Alastair Seeley has been the man of the moment at the North West 200 over the last number of years and most of the attention in the run-up to this year's event has naturally focused on him.
His hat-trick last year brought him level with the late Robert Dunlop on 15 victories and I am confident that he will secure at least the one win he needs to become the most successful rider ever at the event.
He is not unstoppable by any means but he has the track worked out, does his homework on a course he loves and is very switched on over the crucial Coast Road section.
With the level of opposition as high as it has ever been, it will be far from easy, but he's with a strong team in the Briggs BMW outfit, has a strong package, and is used to pitting his skills against some of the best riders in Britain on the short circuits.
Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop will be on board the same brand of machine in the 'big bike' races and both will pose a major threat.
In fact, in my view, Hutchinson will be the man to beat at the North West this year - he's performed well in both British Superstock championship races so far and seems completely at home with both his new bike and the Tyco team.
I wasn't surprised at the impact he made on the roads on his return to full fitness last year because of the massive amount of drive and commitment he possesses.
Michael had a lot of well-documented problems last season but he will be more determined than ever this time round. Everyone knows he is fast and that he'll push hard in every class.
He must be regarded as a podium contender in every race, but whether he can occupy the top step will depend on how happy he is with the set-up of his bikes.
He's had a couple of run outs at Silverstone and Oulton Park and that track time should stand him in good stead, although his main priority will again be the Isle of Man TT.
Peter Hickman missed the North West last year but he is riding very well and the Kawasaki is a really strong bike.
He has the talent to be right at the sharp end and despite this being only his second appearance at the circuit, he is capable of springing a surprise. After all, nobody expected him to win at the British Superbike round at Silverstone last month.
Lee Johnston is very popular around the paddock and is likely to be a leading contender again in the Superstock and Supersport races.
|North West 200 class lap records|
|Superbikes||Josh Brookes (2014) 122.96 mph|
|Superstocks||Ian Hutchinson (2015) 121.68 mph|
|Supersports||Alastair Seeley (2015) 117.077 mph|
|Supertwins||Keith Amor (2014) 108. 64mph|
He could make the rostrum in the Superbikes but he is still finishing his apprenticeship in that class. In another year or two he could be a potential winner there too.
You can never discount Bruce Anstey, he's a bit of a freak of nature as he only rides at a few meetings each year, but always seems to be capable of being on the pace straight away.
I just think his Honda may lack a little bit of pace compared to the likes of the BMWs on a course like the Triangle circuit where top speed counts for so much.
John McGuinness and Conor Cummins are also on Honda machinery but the TT in a few weeks' time will be their priority.
One big name who will not be at the event this year is Guy Martin and while a number of the fans will miss him, he obviously didn't enjoy racing the course and hasn't really been in the running for top leaderboard positions for quite a while.
I think he will still dabble in road racing but he has so much else going on, earning a lot of money doing other things, and has maybe lost his drive.
Having said that, if he does decide to continue, he is still very fast and can be on the winning pace on the circuits he enjoys.
Steve Plater was talking to BBC Sport NI's Richard Petrie