Jeremy McWilliams will return to the Vauxhall International North West 200 this month for the first time in two years.
The ex-Grand Prix ace will again link up with Ryan Farquhar’s KMR Kawasaki team to compete in the Supertwins races at the event, where McWilliams made his road racing debut in 2012.
Now 54, McWilliams has won twice around the 8.9-mile Triangle course on the North Coast, spraying the victory champagne following victories in the Supertwins class in 2013 and 2015.
The Glengormley man delivered a rostrum brace on his previous appearance at the North West in 2016, when Farquhar suffered life-threatening injuries following a crash in the opening Supertwin race.
On that occasion, McWilliams – who was also riding the Mar-Train Yamaha machines as a replacement for the injured Dan Kneen – twice finished third on the KMR Kawasaki as the meeting ended under a dark cloud.
The second Supertwin race was marred by tragedy when rising prospect Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was killed in a crash and the remainder of the event was cancelled.
McWilliams admits his wife, Jill, and sons Jack and Zack, had to be convinced that his return this year was a good idea.
“We are a close knit family and I wouldn’t have done it again without all of their support,” he said.
“We get a kick out of competing there together.”
McWilliams may be a veteran of the sport but he believes he has still got what it takes to win races.
“I would never take part in any race if I didn’t think I could win,” he added.
“Standing on the North West podium has been such a highlight of my career and I still think I can do it again. But with riders like Martin Jessopp, James Cowton, Adam McLean, Derek McGee and Dan Cooper in the field riding as hard as they do, I know I will be up against it.”
McWilliams won’t have the opportunity for much track time on the KMR Kawasaki ahead of the first practice session at the North West on Tuesday, May 15, but it is not something that is giving him cause for concern.
“I wouldn’t be happy going to the North West on anything but one of Ryan’s bikes.
“I always feel a bit of a pleb until Tuesday practice is over because I am never up to speed. I need until Thursday to get into my rhythm, to gel with the bike and find my way around the track.
“Once you get Tuesday over you can settle into your riding and try to get up to speed. There is time to think about things, assess where you can improve and then come back and go faster.”
Morecambe’s John McGuinness was due to compete in the Supertwin class for Farquhar’s Dungannon-based squad but has been sidelined after suffering a re-fracture of his right leg.
McGuinness hasn’t raced since he was badly hurt in a crash in practice at the North West 200 last May.
Farquhar, though, has another leading contender in McWilliams and also feels the former 250cc GP race winner is capable of claiming his third NW200 victory.
“I have no doubt about that,” said Farquhar.
“But the Supertwins class is as tough a race to win as any. We have taken a big step forward with our bikes this year, making them more powerful and lighter.
“But we won’t know what we are up against until we get to the North West.”
Mullingar’s Derek McGee and Canadian Darren James will also ride for Farquhar at the North West, while Peter Hickman and Danny Webb will join the ranks for the Isle of Man TT.
There is also a possibility of a fourth rider joining the KMR line-up at the NW200.