Glenn Irwin says it will be more difficult than ever to win a race at this year’s Vauxhall International North West 200.
The 25-year-old Carrick racer, who shone on his debut at the event in the Supersport class last year, feels he may have sent out the wrong message when claiming in the News Letter that Robert Dunlop’s record of 15 victories would remain intact.
Fellow Carrick man Alastair Seeley equalled Dunlop’s tally of wins with a brilliant treble around the 8.9-mile ‘Triangle’ course in 2015 and only needs one more victory to become the most successful rider ever in the illustrious history of the international road race.
Seeley has managed at least one win at the North West every year since he claimed his first success in 2008 and few would bet against him scaling the top step again in May.
British Superbike recruit Irwin, who is testing the PBM Be Wiser Ducati Panigale at Portimao in Portugal for the first time this week, said on Thursday: “In the past you’d have bet on Alastair Seeley for every single race, but now I don’t think you can predict who will win – that’s where it is because it is so difficult to win a race now at the event.
“It’s a massive challenge for all of us to try and win there and aside from Alastair, myself and Lee Johnston, there are lots of other riders capable of winning, like Peter Hickman, Ian Hutchinson, Michael Dunlop and the like. You could have eight riders in with a shout, so that’s the point I am trying to make – that it will be a massive challenge for Alastair to break the record, even though he only needs one more win.
“I have the banter with Alastair and we sometimes have a bit of a go at each other in the Press, but there is nothing personal in it. I have huge respect for him as a rider and we were at the Arenacross at the Odyssey in Belfast last weekend and had a bit of craic together,” he added.
“We are totally different characters and of course when we are out on the track we want to beat each other. We’re big rivals but like I said, I respect him for what he has achieved in the sport.
“I maybe sounded a bit arrogant and cocky and came across the wrong way when I was talking about his chances of breaking Robert’s record, but what I was really saying is that it will be difficult for him because of the level of competition now – but of course he could do it,” Irwin added.
“I actually do get on with Alastair although we’ve a great rivalry, maybe similar to what it was like between Joey Dunlop and Phillip McCallen. We used to go out and have a few beers together and I trained daily with him in the past, so I know him really well.
“I just play along with things at times because it makes good reading but there’s no real animosity there and it’s all banter really.”
Irwin hopes to return to the North West 200 this year but says the decision will be down to team owner Paul Bird.
“Having the chance to race at the North West would be a bonus if I’m riding well enough in BSB and Paul Bird wants to go.”