North West 200: Steve Plater on the prospects for the 2015 races

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This year's North West 200 boasts a quality line-up

NORTH WEST 200 INTERNATIONAL ROAD RACES

Dates:
Tuesday 12 May to Saturday 16 May
Coverage:
All practices and races live on the BBC Sport website and on BBC Radio Ulster; Highlights on BBC1 NI on Friday 15 May, Sunday 17 May and Monday 18 May.

For me, what makes this North West 200 intriguing and unpredictable is that a lot of riders are coming to the event with different teams or manufacturers from last year.

Only the three main Honda challengers, John McGuinness, Conor Cummins and Bruce Anstey, are going with the same package, so a lot of people are having to acclimatise to new bikes.

The BMW in standard form is probably the fastest bike and Michael Dunlop proved last year how strong it is in a straight line.

Guy Martin and William Dunlop have started the season well and, along with Alastair Seeley, make up a very formidable line-up for the Tyco BMW team.

Alastair is closing in on Robert Dunlop's all-time record and he should be the man to beat in the Superstock class which he competes in regularly in British championship.

He has good racecraft and is always very, very strong on the Superbike and the Supersport too, so if anyone is going to win multiple races it is probably going to be him.

Michael Dunlop will be desperate to prove that he can jump on yet another different bike and be successful and he will be strongly fancied to add to his tally of four wins on the Milwaukee and MD Racing Yamahas.

North West 200 class lap records
SuperbikesJosh Brookes (2014) 122.96mph
SuperstocksHorst Saiger (2014) 121.21mph
SupersportsAlastair Seeley (2014) 116.60mph
SupertwinsKeith Amor (2014) 108.64mph

His 2014 season was in stark contrast to John McGuinness, who is back to full fitness after being seriously hampered by a serious wrist injury last year. I expect him to go well but his Honda team-mate Conor Cummins will be just as competitive as he is full of confidence and happy with the team he has around him.

John will want to make sure he reaches the Isle of Man TT unscathed but if he sees a result on the horizon he will push for it.

Bruce Anstey is something of a phenomenon in that he seems capable of stepping onto a bike and going fast straight away with very little track time under his belt and he is well capable of winning again, particularly in the Supersport class.

The Yamaha and the Triumph are probably the strongest packages for the 600cc races but if a rider can get in the slipstream, then it's possible to pick up the tow and keep up with any bike.

I think Michael Rutter's days as a winner may be over as the younger guys are a little but hungrier but he is still a good bet for a podium position as he really loves the circuit.

Lee Johnston has made rapid progress in recent seasons and could transfer his winning form in the Supertwins last year to the higher capacity classes if he gets that little bit of luck that you need. The fact that he is on a BMW in the 1000cc races and a Triumph in the Supersports can only help his cause.

Gary Johnson is another who has switched to different manufacturers for 2015 and he will feel that he has a point to prove, while Dean Harrison is now with the official Yamaha UK roads team, Mar-Train Racing, so he should achieve some good results. He's a young lad with the right attitude who likes to keep below the radar.

Race facts
Robert Dunlop holds the record for the most North West 200 wins with 15, followed by Joey Dunlop and Michael Rutter (13), Alastair Seeley (12), Phillip McCallen (11) and Bruce Anstey (10).Ten riders have secured hat-tricks in one year at the North West 200, the last being Alastair Seeley in 2012. Robert Dunlop is the only man to have won four trebles at the race.
26 competitors have won on their North West debut. The most recent were Christian Elkin in the 250cc class in 2007 and Bruce Anstey in the Production 1000cc in 2002.Phillip McCallen boasts the highest number of podiums with 28. Joey Dunlop is next with 27, then Ian Lougher and Michael Rutter with 26.

Not for the first time in recent years, Ian Hutchinson is a bit of an unknown quantity coming into the first international outing of the season, but he is well equipped with machinery from the Paul Bird Motorsport Kawasaki team.

James Hillier is another who could spring a surprise, while young Manxman Dan Kneen is one for the future who is going from strength to strength. He rode really well for the Padgett's Honda team at the recent British Superstock round at Brands Hatch and looks up for the job.

Among the notable newcomers this year are Australian David Johnson, British Supersport regular Ben Wilson and his Gearlink Kawasaki team-mate Glenn Irwin, from Northern Ireland.

Glenn will be pushing hard and he is convinced he can be at the sharp end straight away but the Coast Road might take him a little while to learn as it is the most difficult part to get right.

When it comes down to it, qualifying well can give you a confidence boost but as long as I was starting in the front couple of rows on the grid I was always happy. It usually always comes down to the last lap anyhow and the section between Black Hill and the finishing line is most important, with the wind direction even playing a part.

The whole event has a real international flavour to it now, with a great atmosphere and from a racing perspective, the support of all the major manufacturers.

There is plenty going on throughout the week in terms of the social side, stunt shows, exhibitions and motocross, and the riders' day in Coleraine has been a great addition as it gives the fans the chance to meet the riders and get all the autographs they want.

As always, all we need is for the weather to be kind - some sunshine and plenty of fast, close, safe racing.

Steve Plater was talking to BBC Sport NI's Richard Petrie

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