North West 200: Steve Parrish on the prospects for the 2012 races
The abandonment of last year's North West 200 was a huge disappointment for everyone, but with the help of some better weather, I'm confident the race can come back as strong as ever.
It was all so unfortunate but we had one bad year and the event still sits there as one of the very top spectacles in motorcycle road racing.
The Isle of Man TT remains the biggest of the lot, but the North West is right in there behind it.
I think it's a great idea to introduce some racing on Thursday, and it's probably something that the organisers have been striving for in recent years.
It provides the opportunity to get competitive action underway earlier in the week and that eases the pressure on Saturday, especially if it turns out to be wet.
The riders and teams will be happy to get some racing under their belt and it's good for the spectators who travel to the event for an extended period.
The addition of the Supertwins class is an interesting development and in these difficult economic times it's good to have the option of a cheaper form of racing.
Some of the bigger names are starting to compete on these bikes and I imagine it will produce some great racing, as is often the case in the lower capacity classes.
I have never actually seen a Supertwins race so it's something I'm looking forward to, and the fact that Jeremy McWilliams is making his North West debut adds a bit of extra spice.
I expect all the classes to be closely contested this year as the riders are fairly evenly matched and it's all about who produces the goods on the day.
Success at the North West depends hugely on the speed of your machine, more so than at any other course.
At most circuits, I would say victory depends 60% on the bike and 40% on the rider, but at the North West I would rate it as 80% to 20% in favour of the motorcycle.
Of course it's not just about speed, but also about reliability and finishing the race, as the long straights put huge amounts of stress on the machines.
Alastair Seeley has shown good form in recent years and I expect him to be right up there again as the addition of the chicanes in recent years seems to suit the regular short circuit competitors.
His diminutive build is a big bonus as he can get everything well tucked in behind the screen, compared to the likes of Conor Cummins, who is a much bigger lad.
It's great to see Conor going fast on a bike again and he seems to be back to full fitness.
Guy Martin appears to be happy with his set-up at the Tyco Suzuki team and you can never discount Michael Rutter at the North West, even now that he is 40 years old.
John McGuinness is better known as a TT specialist but he's always performed consistently well at the North West, while his team-mate Simon Andrews is one of the rising stars of the roads discipline sport.
I was slightly surprised that Cameron Donald didn't get a ride with the Honda Legends team for the roads and he may have a point to prove on Wilson Craig's very fast machines.
The Dunlop brothers and Ryan Farquhar will be there or thereabouts too, as will Bruce Anstey, who always seems to pop up with a win at these international meetings.
Gary Johnson sprang a bit of a surprise by winning one of the Supersport races at the TT last year and he is on board Clive Padgett's Hondas, which are always well up to scratch.
Ian Hutchinson is also entered on the ultra-quick Swan Yamahas, but it remains to be seen how competitive he will be after the horrific time he has endured with injuries. It'll just be good to see him back out on the track.
It's just sad that Keith Amor's career has been cut short by injuries - he came to the sport quite late but he was always a leading contender and his absence is a big loss to the sport.
It has all the promise of a cracking week and I'm really excited about it.