Successful first day at the NW200 for Hillier
James Hillier got his International North West 200 campaign underway in fine style on Thursday with the Bournemouth Kawasaki Pr1mo Racing rider recording two top six finishes. After taking sixth in the 6-lap Superstock race, the 26-year old then notched up his best ever result around the 8.9-mile road circuit with a superb fourth place in a thrilling 4-lap Supertwins race.
Despite experiencing a few issues in practice, most notably with the gearing of the machines and mechanical problems with the Supersport bike, James qualified well for all of his races with Tuesday’s sessions taking place in dry weather compared to Thursday’s wet sessions. Despite riding the Supertwins machine for the very first time, this gave him a superb third place and front row start whilst he was also handily placed in the Superstock (tenth) and Superstock (13th). The aforementioned problems with the Supersport machine meant he failed to get a time in on Tuesday but with a new engine loaned to him by Gearlink Kawasaki, he successfully qualified despite the wet weather.
Thursday evening saw the first two races of the meeting with the 6-lap Superstock race getting underway in wet weather although with the rain having stopped, the track would dry slightly as the race wore on. A good start saw James complete the first lap in ninth place, just a handful of seconds adrift of the battle for second, and here he remained for the first half of the race. As the sun broke through, the track began to dry slightly and James was able to move up to 8th place on lap 4 and this became 7th a lap later as he overhauled multiple race winner Bruce Anstey. On the final lap, James also overtook fellow Kawasaki rider Michael Dunlop to complete the race in fine sixth place.
Minutes later he was back out on the grid for the inaugural Supertwins race but with the rain returning, tyre choice was somewhat of a gamble for the competitors. Opting for a wet front tyre and a dry rear, a superb start saw James grab the lead going into York Corner and he exchanged places with Ryan Farquhar for the first part of the lap, eventually completing it in 4th place as Adrian Archibald and Jeremy McWilliams overhauled him. With slight rain continuing to fall, James slipped back to fifth on lap three but when Michael Rutter came by, they soon began to reel in Archibald and McWilliams once more. Going into the final lap there was little to choose between the four riders and positions changed places at almost every corner. Taking over third place at Metropole, James looked like he’d grabbed the final podium spot only for 12-times winner Rutter to respond and edge him out as they came along the coast road for the final time. He eventually crossed the line in fourth, just 0.3s behind Rutter.
Speaking later, a pleased James said; “It’s been a great week so far and to get two top six finishes in the first two races is very pleasing. Tyre choice for the Supertwins race was a bit of a lottery but I was happy with my choice and got a really good start only to get shuffled back a bit by half race distance. There was never much in it though so felt confident I could be in touch going into the final lap and when Michael came by, we closed right back in to Jeremy and Adrian. How Michael could do what he was doing on full dry tyres I’ll never know but fair play to him, it was the ride of the race for me. I stuck with him and managed to get up to third on the final lap only to run slightly wide and I then had to make sure Archibald didn’t get me at the final chicane. It was a really good, fun race with little to choose between us and with it being my first time out on the bike, I was delighted with how it performed and am really looking forward to racing it at the TT.”
“In the earlier Superstock race, I struggled a bit with visibility and it took me a while to get used to racing at such high speed in the wet weather. I had a steady couple of laps but then had a bit of brake trouble and as I couldn’t adjust it, I ended up having a few scares. I settled back into the race though and managed to move forward in the final couple laps and although I’d lost a bit of ground to the pack ahead, I managed to get Michael Dunlop on the final lap and take a good sixth. The bikes are working really well and I must say a big thank you to the Gearlink team for the loan of a Supersport engine, which allowed us to make it on to the grid. Things have gone well so far so I’m looking forward to Saturday’s races now and some more good results.”
James has a busy day in store on Saturday as he contests no less than 5 races – two Superbike events, two Supersport races and another Superstock encounter.