Alastair Seeley increased his record of North West 200 wins to 22 with a classy victory in the opening Supersport race at the event on Thursday evening.

Riding for the EHA Racing Yamaha team, Seeley came out on top after a battle with James Hillier (Quattro Plant Kawasaki) and Lee Johnston (Padgett’s Honda) at the Northern Ireland road race.

Seeley’s winning margin was 2.4 seconds after he pulled the pin on the last lap. The Ulster rider has won a race at the event every year since his first victory in 2008.

He said: “It’s nice to keep that record going. I knew the boys were there because they kept passing me and I knew going in to the last lap that I had to make a gap.

“The fuel load was down so I knew I could brake later and I bided my time to lose the tow. I still had plenty in the tank.”

Dean Harrison was fourth on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki ahead of Gary Johnson (Lee Hardy Triumph) and Manx rider Conor Cummins on the Padgetts Honda.

Ian Hutchinson, making his road racing comeback after a long injury layoff, was seventh (Padgetts Honda).

In the Superstock race, it looked as though Seeley was going to make it a double but Peter Hickman had other ideas as he snatched his maiden win at the North West.

Hickman dived inside Seeley on the brakes going into Juniper chicane on the Smiths BMW and held on to win by half-a-second, with Michael Dunlop third on the MD Racing BMW.

“It was really close on the lap before and I knew I could have a go there,” Hickman said.

“I didn’t want to show my hand too early but I was really strong at Black Hill and the bike is good in a straight line. Alastair tried to let the brakes off and lean on me going into Juniper and I thought ‘You’re not doing that!’”

Veteran Michael Rutter closed on the leading trio on the final lap to claim fourth place on the Bathams BMW.

“It was tight and I thought I had him,” said runner-up Seeley. “Hickman had a go at Juniper and I had to sit up and then I ran on to the gravel.”

Hillier and Bradford man Harrison rounded out the first six, with Lee Johnston seventh.

In the first Supertwins race, Martin Jessopp sealed his third North West victory on the Riders Motorcycles Kawasaki.

The Yeovil rider beat former Grand Prix winner Jeremy McWilliams by 1.8 seconds, with the 54-year-old taking the runner-up spot ahead of 20-year-old prospect Joey Thompson, who was riding a Paton.

Jessopp had earlier came off at Mill Road roundabout on the first lap of the Supersport race but he certainly made up for his mistake in the best way possible.

“The evening had started off well when I was leading the Supersport race and then I ended up sitting on top of the Mill Road roundabout!”, he joked.

“It was a hard race and I only led from Metropole on the last lap because I was losing so much out of the corners.”

McWilliams was in front on the opening lap but had to settle for second on his Ryan Farquhar-prepared KMR Kawasaki.

“I fell asleep a little bit and I couldn’t work out where they were faster,” he said.

“The Paton had some pace and then the other boys got in among us and I had to weigh them up. It came good at the end.”

Adam McLean, who qualified second fastest, was fourth on the Hanna Kawasaki ahead of James Cowton (McAdoo Kawasaki).

Racing continues on Saturday, with the Superbike events headlining a five-race programme.

Glenn Irwin Interview