Triangle titan Michael Rutter remains a force to be reckoned with at the Vauxhall International North West 200, where the popular Midlands rider has been ever-present on the grid over the past 24 years.
Rutter made his debut at the famous race on the North Coast in 1992 on an ex-Phillip McCallen 250cc Honda and has only missed the event once in more than two decades of racing in Northern Ireland.
The 44-year-old is the joint third most successful rider ever in North West 200 history, tied on 13 victories with Ulster road racing legend Joey Dunlop.
Only Robert Dunlop (15 wins) and Carrick’s Alastair Seeley have enjoyed more success around the 8.9-mile course, with Seeley moving clear at the top of the most wins table in 2016 after his double in the Supersport class extended his tally to 17 victories.
Rutter is still one of the key protagonists at the North West and although he believes he still has it in him to close the gap to Seeley, he admits it will be a tall order to overhaul the ‘Wee Wizard’.
“Hopefully I still have another win or two left in me,” Rutter said. “I’d like to think I could still catch Alastair Seeley’s record of 17 wins but it would be very difficult because he is so small and so good.”
The ex-British Superbike Championship runner-up will return this year on the Bathams/SMT BMW machines to compete in the Superbike and Superstock races.
And Rutter, who will also ride a 600cc Yamaha R6 provided by Crumlin’s Stephen Thompson under the Thompson Plastering banner, said he is confident the S1000RR Superbike in particular will be finely honed by the time race week arrives from May 7-13.
“Last year the Superbike hadn’t turned a wheel before we arrived at the North West. We developed the bike all year and it showed how good it was in Macau [where Rutter finished as the runner-up behind Peter Hickman],” he said.
“We have continued to develop it over the winter so it should be a good bike.”
Rutter competed in the National Superstock 1000 Championship last year and finished a solid fourth overall in the standings, ending the season with a victory in the final race at Brands Hatch.
However, he remains undecided over his plans for 2017 and revealed he may consider a return to the British Superbike class.
“We have built a Superbike-spec BMW and will ride it in the first BSB test at Donington next week,” he said.
“If we get on okay we will consider doing some BSB rounds.”
Rutter remains a firm favourite with the Northern Ireland fans and he will be among the special guests in attendance on Wednesday at the launch of the North West in Coleraine, which includes the ‘Meet the Riders’ evening.
The event will be held at The Vineyard and guests also include John McGuinness, Alastair Seeley, Ryan Farquhar, Ian Hutchinson and Peter Hickman.