Alastair Seeley got his 2018 North West 200 campaign off to the perfect start on Thursday evening when he won the six-lap Supersport race from James Hillier and Lee Johnston, his 22nd NW200 win in total. The EHA Racing Yamaha rider timed his run to perfection and, aided by the fastest lap of the race at 117.671mph, he saw off the close attentions of Dean Harrison, Hillier, Johnston and Gary Johnson with his eventual winning margin being 2.447s.
It was Martin Jessopp who led into York Corner for the first time but his race soon came to an abrupt end as he got into the Millbank Roundabout too hot and tipped off at slow speed causing mayhem behind him. When the dust settled, it was Seeley who led and his advantage at the end of the first lap was 0.4s from Johnston, Adam McLean, Dan Cooper, Johnson and Hillier, the latter having come through from 18th on the grid. Harrison and Michael Dunlop were clear losers from the Jessopp incident as they were down in 12th and 13th respectively.
Second time around and Johnston levelled with Seeley going into Metropole but he couldn’t find a way through and he was soon pushed back to third by a flying Hillier who completed the second lap in second place. McLean was now fourth ahead of Johnson and Cooper with Harrison working his way up to eighth.
The latter was really flying and whilst Seeley still led at the end of lap three, half race distance, from Johnston and Hillier, the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider was up to fourth as Johnson maintained fifth from Conor Cummins. On lap four, five riders had made the break at the head of the field and Harrison overhauled all of them to lead at University and although Seeley briefly got ahead, the Bradford rider was back in the lead at Mathers.
Seeley quickly retaliated and led going into the Magherabuoy chicane only for Harrison to reverse the positions at the Metropole. Along the coast road, Seeley was again stronger than the rest and he led going into the penultimate lap closely followed by Harrison, Johnston, Hillier and Johnson, just 1.8s covering the quintet.
The order had changed again by the time they got to University and it was now Harrison, Hillier, Seeley, Johnston and Johnson, the latter losing touch slightly but there was no respite for any of them and as they reach the finish line to start their final lap, Seeley led from Harrison and Hillier.
However, the Carrickfergus rider pulled the pin on the final lap, and left the field behind him, his fastest lap being just outside his own lap record. Hillier, whose team had to swap engines, after morning qualifying, just held off Johnston with Harrison and Johnson slipping back to fourth and fifth.
Further behind, Cummins had a strong ride into sixth and his team-mate Ian Hutchinson rode brilliantly for seventh with Cooper, James Cowton and Dan Kneen completing the top ten. William Dunlop and brother Michael both retired.