History 2002 – Present
The North West 200 returned to the Triangle circuit in 2002 after an absence of forty eight months, enforced by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that had ravaged the British countryside. test
With new clerk of course Mervyn Whyte at the helm, the meeting had got of to a low key start for TAS Suzuki new boy David Jeffries. Jeffries had jetted between Portstewart and Silverstone throughout race week, juggling his North West 200 commitments while maintaining his challenge for the British Superstock championship. With the British Superstock round scheduled to take place on the Sunday after the North West 200 there was no doubting that Jeffries had a demanding schedule to fulfill. Clutch problems on the big Suzuki sidelined Jeffries after three laps of practice on the Tuesday evening of race week, and as the opening Superbike race of the meeting lined up under leaden skies, Jeffries languished back in tenth place on the grid.
It would make no difference to the hard charging Yorkshire man. As the rain came down the opposition struggled to simply cope in the tricky conditions, but not Jeffries. Whilst the entire field floundered, Jeffries gambled against the popular choice of full wet tyres, opting instead for intermediates, front and back. It was an inspired decision. As the fancied runners fell by the wayside Jeffries put his practice troubles behind him and disappeared in a wall of spray to notch up a famous win for his new team.
First to go was Honda Britain runner John McGuinness who was already touring by the first corner with a blown clutch. Practice pole sitter and pre race hot favourite Michael Rutter didn’t complete the opening lap either. Rutter had all the work behind him after fighting his way past the V & M Yamahas of Duffus and Moodie, before dropping his Renegade Ducati as he led first time through Metropole. By then Jeffries had moved from tenth to fourth, and as Jim Moodie and Iain Duffus fought out an all Scottish battle at the front, Jeffries bided his time. By lap three tyres that were already long past their best had forced Duffus and Moodie off the pace, allowing the TAS Suzuki to the front. Neither of the Scotsmen completed the race distance, and the expected challenges from Ian Lougher and Richard Britton failed to materialise, Britton retiring from the action, and Lougher sliding off at York Hairpin.
In the end Jeffries completed his display of dominance coming home eighteen seconds clear of Ryan Farquhar, with Adrian McFarland causing a major upset with an unexpected rostrum finish.
The Junior 600cc race produced major headaches for the race organizers after crashes involving Colin Rodgers and Alan Patterson forced the action to be red flagged twice, and provided Jim Moodie with the victory as officials abandoned all hope of completing the full race distance.
Rodgers had been the first casualty after he suffered a high speed off at the notorious Mathers Cross on the third lap. The race was stopped with Moodie leading a stormy encounter from Duffus, Adrian Archibald, Farquhar and Jeffries. The decision was taken to calculate the result over two legs, with positions for the first half of the contest being calculated on positions at the end of lap two.
As the grid reformed Duffus was forced to endure the agony of being forced to sit out the rerun after his V & M Yamaha refused to fire. His mechanics continued to work frantically on the stricken machine as the field streamed away for part two of the Junior 600cc encounter, with Duffus a disconsolate figure as he walked back towards the pits. Then, in an instant the engine of the R6 came to life, Duffus hurdled a track side barrier, mounted, and set off dead last.
At the front Moodie’s luck was changing as well. With a four and a half second advantage in hand from the opening two lap first half, the hard as nails Scot seemed in an strong position to take the win, but on lap one of the rerun Moodie’s Yamaha spluttered and went silent at Coleraine. The Scot was out, and Farquhar seized his chance and took the lead from John McGuinness and Gary Jess as they reached the Metropole. It was all in vain. Alan Patterson, contesting the 250cc contest ran concurrently with the 600cc class, tumbled heavily at Magherabuoy chicane, and as the ex-Grand Prix star lay prostrate in the middle of the road, the red flags again stopped the action, and the race abandoned. The final result was declared on positions as they stood after two laps, giving Moodie the win from Farquhar and Duffus. Ironically it was Patterson claimed the honour of 250cc winner, with the result decided on positions as they stood at the end of two laps.
The 125cc encounter provided Ian Lougher with the first half of a classy double, but ultimately disappointed the hordes of local fans who had desperately hoped for one more victory for home hero, Robert Dunlop. Dunlop had showed strongly throughout practice, but on the day backed off as conditions deteriorated leaving Lougher, Darren Lindsay, Chris Palmer and Callum Ramsey set the pace at the front.
Dunlop led off the line, but as the mid field runners fell like skittles, it was Lindsay already well clear of the chasing pack as he completed his first lap. But then as he exited the start/finish chicane to begin lap two, disaster struck and Lindsay’s Honda slid from beneath him. He remounted to claim a fighting seventh place, but the story was one of what might have been.
Lindsay’s loss was Lougher’s gain, but as the action simmered and lap two moved into lap three, the outcome was far from clear as the unrelenting challenges off Ramsey and Palmer came thick and fast. In the end experienced counted with Lougher making the move that mattered on the final lap, pushing Ramsey who had led for most of the way back to third, and Palmer into the runner up spot. In the end Dunlop opted for discretion over valour, coming home in fifth place, behind his nephew, Paul Robinson and ahead of Davy Lemon.
Victory number two came for Lougher at the end of the pulsating Regal 600cc race by 0.3 seconds from John McGuinness. With Moodie a non starter and David Jeffries touring at Coleraine on lap one the action was already at boiling point as Lougher, McGuinness, Duffus, Gary Jess and Farquhar duked it out at the front. Duffus moved to second on lap two, and took the lead at Coleraine on lap three, but it was McGuinness who headed the charge at the end of the lap. The Morecambe rider kept the Honda just ahead as lap four came and went but there was nothing in it. As the race moved towards a nail biting final Lougher showed his hand on the final run into Portrush, edging ahead of McGuinness and staying there on the final thrilling run across the Coast Road. Duffus completed the top three, with Jess, Archibald and Farquhar following him home.
The sensation of the meeting came in the form of thirty one year old Bruce Anstey from Wellington, New Zealand. After writing off his own machine in an accident at Oulton Park on May Day, Anstey, a newcomer to the meeting, proved a major upset by setting pole position in practice on a borrowed Suzuki. Despite the Kiwi’s red hot practice form the pre race smart money remained on David Jeffries, and it was the familiar form of the TAS Suzuki rider out in front for the opening two laps.
Lougher’s challenge at the front ended on lap one after overshooting at University corner, leaving Anstey to shadow the vastly experienced Jeffries before moving ahead on the third circuit. The expected fight back from Jeffries never came, and at the flag Anstey had pulled clear by eleven seconds, with Gary Jess a further ten seconds adrift in third. Anstey achievement in setting pole position and taking the win on his first appearance at the circuit remains unmatched.
With the roads drying out and conditions dramatically improving, the grid lined up for the feature North West 200 Superbike race, with Michael Rutter clear favourite despite his earlier misfortune. The race would end in drama and controversy, but Rutter would play no part in deciding the outcome.
The Rutter/Ducati combination dominated the early stages of the race as expected, with Ian Lougher challenging strongly on the TAS Suzuki. An elusive hat trick seemed within the grasp of the Welsh star as he hit the front on lap two, but when a blown motor ended his race at Mathers Cross, it only seemed a matter of how far Rutter would be in front at the end. With the clock ticking towards an advantage of almost thirty seconds over a chasing pack of Britton, Duffus and Archibald, Rutter cruised through Juniper Hill Chicane with four laps almost complete. And then it all with horribly wrong as Rutter clipped the grass verge and tumbled out. In an instant the contest was suddenly wide open.
Whilst Rutter was left to reflect on how he had thrown away two victories that had been his for the taking in the one day as trudged back to the pits, the race moved towards a cliff hanging finale. An upset seemed firmly on the cards as Richard Britton edged into the lead on the final, frantic run through Metropole, but as the six wheel train crested Quarry Hill it was Archibald ahead with Duffus on his tail with it all to do. Archibald did everything right as he sprinted towards the line, but in one last mighty effort Duffus drove out of the last corner to snatch his first North West 200 from the Ballymoney rider by inches.
Both riders were sure the victory was theirs as they waited the outcome of the photo finish and the judge’s verdict. Both riders were credited with the same race time of 116.85 mph, but whilst in the eyes of many a dead heat might have been a fair decision, the win was controversially awarded to Duffus. Britton averaged 116.81 mph for the race distance but had to settle for third, it was that close.