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Countdown to road race heaven begins

Stars of the 2015 Vauxhall International North West 200
Stars of the 2015 Vauxhall International North West 200

It’s the biggest sporting event on this island, with up to 150,000 road race fans flocking to a small trio of towns on the north coast for the North West 200 this May 12-16.

Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine will once again host the highlight of the Irish road racing season and more than 1,100 people attended the launch at Belfast’s Titanic building on Tuesday.

The Vauxhall International North West 200 attracts the biggest field of top road racers, and many of these were in Belfast for the launch, including John McGuinness, William and Michael Dunlop, Alastair Seeley, Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison, Lee Johnston, Maria Costello, Michael Rutter, Ryan Farquhar and Jeremy McWilliams.

They were joined by event director Mervyn Whyte, who said: “Our race partners and sponsors have been able to share our launch day with these brilliant riders and the fans of the North West had a great opportunity to chat to their favourite racers during the Meet the Stars event.”  

The event was given an extra boost with the announcement that Ian Hutchinson will race an MV Agusta 675cc triple for the Tsing Tao/Hampshire MV team.

The 35-year-old will race the Italian machine alongside his Paul Bird Motorsport ZX 10 Kawasaki superbike and superstock machines at Portrush.

After seeing the bike for the first time last weekend, the two-time NW200 winner said: “I’ve sat on the bike now and I want to wait until it is built for me to ride with the gear change on the right and the MV factory electronics so it has the same spec I will race with at the North West and TT.” 

Outlining the details of the eight-race programme spread over Thursday evening and Saturday, Whyte revealed that there will be three new race sponsors for 2015. With the Monster Energy Superbike race and the Spidi Leathers Superstock race already announced, Bet McLean is the latest company to provide Northern Ireland’s premier road race support with its sponsorship of the Saturday Supersport event.

“It is one of the showpiece events on the sporting calendar and hopefully the Bet McLean Supersport race will signal the start of a wonderful day’s racing,” Paul McLean, managing director, said.

“Growing up in Ballymena I can well remember the build-up to the North West every year and the family’s annual pilgrimage to watch it,” he added. 
The race will also enjoy the support of title sponsors Vauxhall, Coleraine Borough Council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.