Reigning North West 200 Superbike king Glenn Irwin says he no longer sees Alastair Seeley as his chief threat in the showpiece races at the famous international roads meeting.
Fellow Carrickfergus man Seeley is the most successful rider in history at the event with 24 wins under his belt and is in talks to ride the all-new Ducati V4 for Irwin’s former team Paul Bird Motorsport in May, when he is gunning for his fifth triumph in the blue riband class on the North Coast.
The 39-year-old British Supersport star stoked the rivalry between the pair by writing off Irwin’s target of six victories this year as ‘trash talk’.
In response, Irwin – who has won the past three Superbike races at the North West – said his old sparring partner ‘might have a wee chip on his shoulder’.
In an exclusive interview with the News Letter, British Superbike contender Irwin said: “I was very amused when I read that Alastair is out to try and scupper me this year because to be honest, I never even saw him when I was out on track in the Superbike races last year.
“I think he might have finished 10th in the second Superbike race so first he’d need to worry about the other eight riders that also finished in front of him.
“Alastair is right in what he says: it will be so difficult to win all six races that I’ve entered, but if I really was trash talking I’d have said definitively that I will win all six,” added Irwin, who has joined the Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki team for 2019.
“The difference is that I have only said I want to try and win all six. Tell me what sportsperson doesn’t enter a competition or an event with the aim of winning?
“I have never gone to the North West with the intention of raining on Alastair’s parade – I’m just there to do my job.”
Irwin – set to make his debut in the NW200 Superstock and Supertwins races this year – says he would find it disrespectful to the rest of his rivals to single out any one rider as his main adversary given the quality of opposition he faces.
“I love road racing; I love the respect amongst the boys and I never talk just about any one individual,” said the 28-year-old, who narrowly edged out Seeley in an epic NW200 Superbike race in 2017.
“When I weigh up a race, I’m thinking about the likes of Dean Harrison, Michael Dunlop, Peter Hickman and Michael Rutter – I’m thinking about all of these top riders as they are all so fast.
“I looked up to riders like Rutter and John McGuinness when I was a boy and it is truly an honour to see my name on the results sheets alongside theirs.
“Big Conor Cummins is another rider I would tip to be challenging for wins this year and perhaps his first TT win is also on the cards,” he added.
“Alastair just isn’t at the top of my list so I find it quite funny that I seem to be at the top of his. Maybe he has a wee chip on his shoulder but it’s clear he wants to try and win the big Superbike race this year: that’s the one we all want and it’s the one that gets all the attention.”
On the prospect of Seeley lining up for his former team on the much-vaunted PBM Ducati V4, Irwin said he very much hopes the deal comes off.
“Yes, I’ve heard Alastair will be riding for PBM on the new Ducati but before that happens, he’s going to have to win the team over first,” he said.
“Personally I hope it does happen because it would be nice for Alastair to be in the Superbike races on what he believes is the best bike.
“People may have the impression that I won easily on the Ducati at the North West last year and I understand it may have looked that way, but no one knows how difficult it was to ride that bike around there. I think a lot of people thought the bike was much better than it actually was but I was fighting to keep it in a straight line.
“But I know that I am going to be a lot stronger this year on the package I have with the Kawasaki.”
As fierce opponents on the track, the relationship between Irwin and Seeley has blown hot and cold over the past several seasons, but the three-time Superbike winner says he has always had the utmost respect for Seeley's achievements around the 8.9-mile Triangle.
“I’m never going to chase Alastair’s record down and that’s because I see a different future for myself, which doesn’t involve being at the North West umpteen times to give myself the chance to do that," he said.
“What he has done is fantastic and I have always shown a lot of respect to him for that; I’ve always tried to play down any little feuds there may have been as well.
“For me, the trash talk is coming from Alastair – I’m just out to try and win every race that I am in and that is just the attitude of a motorcycle racer."