All you need to know about the North West 200

It's that time of year again when the engines fire up and some of the best motorcycle riders in the world hit Northern Ireland's north coast.

The North West 200 is back and this year there are nine races to look forward to, including three Superbike outings for the first time.

From the ones to watch to where to catch the action - here's all you need to know about the North West 200.

What is the North West 200?

The North West 200 is an international road race that takes place on closed public roads between the towns of Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush on Northern Ireland's beautiful north coast.

The 'Triangle Circuit' is 8.9 miles long and riders can lap the course in around four minutes as they navigate sweeping country lanes, chicanes, roundabouts and flowing seaside roads.

The fastest part of the circuit is the run down to University corner, where Superbikes can get up to speeds of 210mph. When driving it in your road car, it's a much more serene 60mph, to give you an idea of the speed difference.

The long straights mean riders jostle for position at high speeds and look for the all-important slip stream, which can be the difference between winning and losing the race.

What are the classes?

There are four different classes of motorcycles at the North West 200, which each has its own practice session and races.

The stars of the show are the Superbikes, which will have three races in the 2024 schedule. They usually attract the best riders on some of the most exotic machinery and involves the fastest speeds, up to 200mph. Glenn Irwin will be the man to beat as he chances the record for the most 'big bike' victories.

With no Alastair Seeley or Glenn Irwin, the Superstock class is wide open, and it will be a big chance for a number of riders to stake their claim at glory.

Superstock machines are the nearest to the motorcycles you can buy in the showroom, with a few modifications permitted for racing. Regulations allow for 850cc to 1000cc three or four cylinder four-strokes and 955cc to 1200cc two-cylinder four-strokes.

The Supersport races have been some of the most keenly-fought over recent years, with the 600cc machines producing some superb racing around the Triangle circuit.

Supersport machines are road-going, production based 'showroom look-alike' machines, although changes are permitted to exhausts, suspension internals and also tyres.

Last, but by no means least, are the Supertwins, which, like the Supersport bikes, produce close racing.

The Twins, which were introduced to the NW200 in 2012, are four stroke twin cylinder machines originally sold for road use with a water-cooled engine of up to 700cc.

Who are the ones to watch?

PBM Ducati's Glenn Irwin is the local favourite as he looks to win his ninth Superbike race in a row - which would bring him level with Joey Dunlop and Michael Rutter. He comes into the event off the back of a hat-trick of victories at the British Superbike Championship round at Oulton Park.

"I don't feel the pressure, I train and work to win," Irwin said. "I never go wanting to be happy with third or anything like that.

"It would mean a lot [to break the record]. It's something I think about quite a lot. There's a lot of track action to come before then, but I'd be quite disappointed if I didn't win all three, to be honest."

BMW rider Davey Todd has impressed at the North West 200 and is a serious challenger, while Honda's Dean Harrison will be looking for honours after switching from a long-term ride on Kawasaki.

"I'm feeling in a really good place and my team are doing a fantastic job," said Todd, who will also ride a Ducati in the Supersport class.

"I want to battle with Glenn, we always have good battles here and he's had too many wins in a row now, so someone has to put a stop to that. We're good friends and it's a good rivalry"

Peter Hickman has been the man to beat at the Isle of Man TT and has shown flashes of his brilliance at the North West 200, while you can never discount an on-song Michael Dunlop, who is looking his first win since 2016.

Richard Cooper has taken to the event like a duck to water and will be looking to continue his dominance in the Supertwins and aim for Supersport glory.

“I had a second and third plus two wins last year, but I want those four wins this time and I believe I have the best opportunity of doing that," said Cooper.

“My Supertwin bike is very competitive, and I know the Supersport class is very competitive, so I am under no illusion that it is going to be difficult, but I want to win.”

There are also legends of the sport such as John McGuinness, Jeremy McWIlliams, Rutter and Ian Hutchinson, but for the first time in 20 years record wins holder Alastair Seleey will not be lining up at the event and fan favourite Lee Johnston is injured.

How do I follow it?

In a change from previous years, the opening practice and qualifying take place throughout Wednesday, rather than Tuesday, before the second round of sessions on Thursday morning.

After reopening the public roads, the circuit is closed off again on Thursday evening for the opening Superstock, Supersport and Superbike races.

There's also a full schedule of racing on Saturday - including two more Superbikes races in a packed schedule.

It's a condensed format that will put more pressure on teams and riders to get their set-ups right from the opening session if they want to get the upper hand come race day.

The forecast is also looking good, which should help riders get up to speed.

You can watch a live stream of all the action on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport NI website - with Lee Johnston, Philip McCallen and Jenny Tinmouth on punditry, and if you're on the move you can listen to the racing on Thursday night and Saturday on BBC Radio Foyle or on BBC Sounds.

Race schedule - Thursday

Superbike race one - four laps

Supersport race one - four laps

Superstock race one - four laps

Race schedule - Saturday

Supertwin race one - four laps

Superbike race two - six laps

Supersport race two - six laps

Superstock race two - six laps

Supertwin race two - four laps

Superbike race three - six laps