By Kyle White Belfast Newsletter
NW200: Dunlop Tyres’ UK event manager explains decision to withdraw riders from Superbike finale
Dunlop Tyres’ Pat Walsh said he had “no choice” other than to advise riders to withdraw from Saturday’s headline Superbike race at the North West 200.
A number of leading contenders including Peter Hickman, who earlier set a new outright lap record at 124.799mph on his FHO Racing BMW, plus Michael Dunlop, Dean Harrison, Conor Cummins and Davey Todd – runner-up behind Glenn Irwin the Superbike opener – sat out the final race of the day.
An issue with a batch of Dunlop Superbike rear slicks was identified after several riders, including Hickman and team-mate Brian McCormack, experienced problems in the first Superbike race.
Michael Dunlop also had a lucky escape after a huge moment on the Coast Road on his Hawk Suzuki, with the Ballymoney man forced to retire. Video footage circulated on social media showed how close the 33-year-old had been to potential disaster, and only Dunlop’s razor-sharp reaction prevented a worse scenario.
The start of the feature Superbike race at the North West 200 on Saturday, when up to 24 riders using Dunlop tyres did not take part due to a safety issue over a batch of Dunlop rear Superbike slicks.
On Sunday, Walsh – who is the Event Manager for Dunlop Motorsport UK – said the issue was a one-off problem and has now been rectified.
He also said he was “100 per cent” confident that those riders committed to Dunlop Tyres would use the rubber as planned at the Isle of Man TT.
“All the other tyres in the Supersport race on Thursday and the other races, there wasn’t an issue at all and we had plenty of podiums and lap records,” he said.
“In the Supersport race (on Saturday) we had the first four across the line on Dunlop tyres.
“But at the end of the first Superbike race, there was a problem with the tyres used by Michael Dunlop, Peter Hickman and Brian McCormack, although in that same race Clive Padgett’s Honda was on the podium with Davey Todd.
“But on safety grounds, we just had to make the decision to pull the riders out of the final Superbike race. Obviously Mervyn (Whyte) wasn’t happy, but I got in touch with our technical development guys over at the factory and it was essentially a bad batch of tyres,” he added.
“There were 24 bikes on Dunlop tyres in the second Superbike race and the only rider that we know of who did actually go out was Michael Rutter, but he used the treaded tyres we run in the Superstock class.
“There was no problem with the other tyres, it was purely with the Superbike rear slicks, but not with every compound. It just so happened that the issue was with the compound the top riders were running.”
Looking to the TT, Walsh said he has spoken with riders and team bosses, who have reiterated their continued commitment to the brand.
“I’ve spoken to the team managers and riders individually and they have no issue going forward to the TT because they have complete trust in Dunlop because of what we have done in recent years,” he said.
“We have every lap record in every class at the TT and our record speaks for itself.
“It was just so unfortunate at a high-profile meeting like the North West 200. Brian McCormack’s tyre was gone after only one lap, which is just 8.9-miles, so that’s why I couldn’t let the riders continue.
“Steve Plater is the rider liaison officer at the North West 200 and he was in full agreement with me.
“But you only have to look at our success at the TT and North West over the years – it has been phenomenal.
“It was one batch of tyres and the problem has been identified, and is being rectified.”