The Penrith-based Paul Bird Motorsport team enjoyed an excellent day of racing at the Vauxhall International North West 200 today with Ian Hutchinson giving both himself and the squad yet more International podium finishes with a hard fought second place in the Monster Energy Superbike race followed up with third and a new lap record in the CP Hire Superstock encounter.
The Bingley ace had been well to the fore during mixed conditions in qualifying and was hopeful of a good result in Thursday's Spidi Superstock race but it was stopped early following an accident and rescheduled for today's main race day.
However, despite a reasonable weather forecast, rain and high winds affected the rescheduled Superstock race and after two stoppages, it was abandoned.
The weather continued to play havoc with the schedule on Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast and although six races did take place, the final Superbike
race was scrapped but not before 'Hutchy' had announced his comeback to competition in style.
The opening Superbike race saw him lead on the PBM Kawasaki for long spells but it was always close as less than two seconds separated the leading six with Lee Johnston, Bruce Anstey, Alastair Seeley, Michael Rutter and John McGuinness all nose to tail. The lead continually changed hands but on the final lap it was Seeley who had the better run along the coast road and two times NW200 winner Hutchinson had to settle for second place close behind.
The Superstock race was equally tough as the 35-year-old Yorkshireman had to start from the fourth row of the grid but by the end of the opening lap he was already up to fourth and part of a four-rider battle for the lead with Seeley, Johnston and Michael Dunlop. At half race distance, he fell back slightly from the front three but had two superb final laps and with the new class lap record of 121.680mph, he crossed the line in third to make it two podiums from two starts.
Hopes of making it three podiums from three starts were dashed when the feature Superbike race was cancelled. With the time already nearing 7.30pm, high and gusting winds of over 40mph were hitting the coastal towns of Portrush and Portstewart meaning organisers had little option but to cancel the race on safety grounds.
Ian Hutchinson: "I gave it all I had in that first Superbike race and after effectively four years out, to be able to challenge Alastair like that felt pretty good. He's unbelievable round here and whilst I'm disappointed not to have won, after everything I've been through, I've got to be happy to be back on an International podium. I had a bit of a slide coming onto the coast road and wasn't as strong along there on the final lap as I would have liked but I was in the mix again and it's nice to repay everyone for their faith in me and support. Coming from the fourth row was hard work in the Superstock race but I did my best and I was happy with how I rode, especially along the coast road. I'm happy with the result, the podium and I certainly couldn't be happier with how I'm riding. The bikes are working excellently in all areas and I'm feeling good for the TT so I'm peaking right now."
Stuart Bland, Team Co-ordinator: "It's a shame the last Superbike race was cancelled as we'd made a couple of changes to the Superbike and were confident Hutchy could have taken the win but we're delighted with how the races have gone and with the results we've achieved. Ian's riding really, really well and the whole team is 100% behind him so we're in a really good place going into the TT.
Image courtesy of Jon Jessop: Ian Hutchinson took a double podium at the Vauxhall International North West 200.