North West 200 2017: Steve Plater tips Seeley and Irwin for Superbike honours

By Steve PlaterEight-times North West 200 winner
Glenn Irwin
Glenn Irwin lies fifth in the standings after three rounds of the British Superbike series
North West 200 international road races
Dates: Tuesday 9 May-Saturday 13 May Venue: Triangle Circuit, Portstewart, Coleraine, Portrush
Coverage: All practices and races live on the BBC sport website and BBC Radio Ulster; Highlights on BBC One NI Friday 12 May, Sunday 14 May and Monday 15 May

The addition of Glenn Irwin to the entry list for this year's North West 200 brings a new dimension to the event and has attracted a lot of interest.

Glenn made a huge impact on his debut in the Supersport class two years ago and I can see him challenging for wins in the Superbike class this time round.

He has been riding very well for Ducati in British Superbikes this season and seems to be in the right frame of mind.

It's great to have another top BSB team and leading manufacturer at the race.

I know Glenn was eager to ride and, in fairness, his Be Wiser Ducati boss Paul Bird is also keen to come over.

I expect him to be right up there on the pace and the Ducati is quite a robust bike. The team had some teething issues with it but they've got round those problems - it's more reliable now and the Triangle circuit is quite smooth compared to the TT.

Alastair Seeley was a double Supersport winner on his Gearlink Kawasaki in 2016
Alastair Seeley was a double Supersport winner on his Gearlink Kawasaki in 2016

Despite Irwin's presence, Alastair Seeley is arguably the favourite again as he has been the master around there in recent years and is with two teams and on three machines that he knows well in Tyco BMW and Gearlink Kawasaki.

He has been in good form on the short circuits, wants to win more and more and will not be happy with anything less than the top step of the podium.

Having achieved an all-time record of 17 wins, the fact that he is just one behind Phillip McCallen's all-time record of 28 rostrum finishes gives him another target to aim for.

When you are looking for other potential winners, it's hard to look past Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson and Peter Hickman.

Michael is in a happy place and has put in a lot of mileage on his Bennett's Suzuki but everything is new and a little bit of an unknown quantity until he gets out there on the roads.

Ian has switched to Dunlop tyres for the roads, meaning that virtually all the top guys are on similar rubber, so it should come down to the strength of the various manufacturers and the ability of the riders.

North West 200 class lap records
SuperbikesMichael Dunlop (2016) 123.207 mph
SuperstocksIan Hutchinson (2016) 122.702 mph
SupersportsAlastair Seeley (2016) 117.835 mph
SupertwinsIvan Lintin (2016) 109. 304 mph

Peter has been very consistent so far this year on the Smith's BMW in the British championship and he is one who is still chasing his first North West win.

Other riders on new machinery include Honda Racing riders John McGuinness and Guy Martin on the SP2 Fireblades so they may be on the back foot a bit and have some work to do, although they have done a lot of testing.

John hasn't had much track time as yet but he will soon get up to speed and while the TT will also be the priority for Guy, he loves racing bikes and could spring a surprise as he is fast on his day. He has a bit of ground to make up after two years out of racing of course.

As regards rostrum finishers, there are a whole host of other riders to consider, including Michael Rutter, James Hillier, Martin Jessopp, Dan Kneen, Dean Harrison and William Dunlop.

Bruce Anstey may be 48, but he can never be ruled out and you write him off at your peril, while I could see Lee Johnston winning on one of the smaller bikes, the Supersport or the Supertwins.

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

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