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Michael Dunlop heads star line up for NW200

Dave Kneen/Pacemaker Press, Belfast: 31/08/2015: Michael Dunlop (1100 Suzuki/Team Classic Suzuki) at the Gooseneck during the Motorsport Merchandise F1/F2 Classic TT race.

All roads lead to the north coast this week for the Vauxhall International North West 200 which gets under way with official practice this morning.

Almost all the top international and national road racers will again swarm the seaside venues of Portrush, Portstewart, and Coleraine in what is billing up to be one of the most long-awaited races of the season.

Heading the line-up will be Michael Dunlop who will make his debut this season on the road racing scene on the Bennetts Suzuki.

Last year's Superbike race winner will be eager to put his name on the long list of previous winners again, but will face serious competition with a plethora of riders also seeking the crown of king of the north coast.

The 28-year-old TT lap record holder will have no stiffer competition than the record race winner of the North West 200, Carrickfergus man Alastair Seeley.

Seeley, who has been drafted into the Tyco BMW Team for the NW200, is really the man they have all to beat to be on the top step of the podium this year.

He has already notched up 17 race wins around the Portrush triangle, and he's the main man when it comes to winning.

The `Wee Wizard' as he is better known may be notching up the years along with his race wins, but he can never be ruled out of taking the main silverware at his favourite race track.

Dunlop on the other hand has been concentrating his season on the British Superbike Championships early season instead of the usual races like the Tandragee 100 and Cookstown 100.

The Ballymoney rider is sure to put his recent track knowledge to good use around the North West 200 where speed and flowing riding ability is paramount to success.

But it won't be all about these aforementioned pair.

Another Carrickfergus rider looking to stamp his authority on the north coast this week is British Superbike contender Glenn Irwin.

He will race the Paul Bird BeWiser Ducati in earnest for the first time at the North West 200.

Irwin, who has show real potential in the Superbike class in BSB, has, I believe, the machinery and the skill to throw a spanner into the works this week.

He will be one rider who I suspect will make it to the podium at least in one of the two Superbike races.

Then there is Yorkshire man Ian Hutchinson.

The talented Tyco BMW rider has already a proven record that he can win just about anywhere and only a fool would disregard Hutchinson from again showing his talent and class this week.

One man the large crowd will be willing on will be Honda Racing rider Guy Martin.

Martin, who is making a return to road racing after a year's absence, has already taken in the Tandragee and Cookstown 100 races.

Granted, with little effect, but the flamboyant Martin will be eager to put things right at the North West in preparation for the TT races next month.

It's no secret that the North West 200 circuit is not one of Martin's favourite places.

Joining Martin in the Honda Team will be TT hero John McGuinness.

Like Martin he is not best suited to the seaside venue and is also at the north coast in preparation for the TT Races.

Both riders may not shine as much as they can at the likes of the TT.

New Zealand's Bruce Anstey is the sole representative for the Padgetts Honda Team at this year's event.

Manxman Conor Cummins made a late withdrawal from the event due to a wrist injury, and the flying Kiwi is very much in the hunt in not only the Superbike races, but also the Supersport and Superstock races.

Add in the likes of William Dunlop, Derek Sheils, Dean Harrison, Gary Johnson, James Hillier, Martin Jessop, Michael Rutter, and Peter Hickman and it's anyone's guess as to who will be crowned the North West Champion in 2017.

But for sure, it's going to be fast and furious.

The event which has endured its fair share of ill fate in recent years is overdue a slick, safe and successful meeting in 2017.

With the current good weather looking to just make the weekend, all fingers will be crossed for that to happen.

PRACTICE SCHEDULE:

Tuesday (roads close 9.15 to 3pm) practice

Thursday (roads close 9.15 to 3pm) practice

RACE SCHEDULE:

Thursday roads close 5pm to 9pm

Race 1: HEL Performance Supersport race

Race 2: Bayview Hotel Superstock Race

Race 3: Vauxhall Supertwins Race

SATURDAY

Roads Close 9.15am-9pm

Race 1: Bet McClean.com Supersport Race

Race 2: Anchor Bar Superbike Race

Race 3: JM Paterson Supertwin Race

Race 4: Vauxhall North West 200 Superbike Race

Race 5: CP Hire Superstock Race

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