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Motorcycle racing

Massive NW200 controversy explained as leading team exits

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

This year’s North West 200 has been embroiled in controversy after the first race at the 2023 edition of the historic road racing event, with leading team FHO Racing withdrawing riders Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes from the event without even having turned a wheel in anger, following a stewarding debacle that played out on the grid for the opening Superstock race on Thursday evening.

The team was informed only on the grid for that race that its 2023-spec BMW M1000RR machines had been deemed illegal due to their use of the carbon-fibre wheels, which come as standard on the machine but are banned from competing in Irish road races (despite being legal for next month’s Isle of Man TT).

Peter Hickman NW200


However, the rulebook also states that bikes must use the wheels which come with the production bike, which in the case of the M1000RR are the carbon ones; a contradiction that would seemingly imply that BMW’s highest-spec model of superbike is wholly illegal for racing in the Superstock class (but not in the Superbike class, where wheels can be changed).

That’s also alluded to by FIM documents available through the governing body’s website, which attest that the M1000RR’s carbon wheels are part of the homologated 2022 version of the bike.

However, rather than being informed only after the race had been completed and given time to adequately protest the stewards’ decision, the team’s bikes were instead pulled from the grid just minutes ahead of the race, which was eventually won by Milwaukee BMW racer Alastair Seeley.

Alastair Seeley NW200

And, despite both Hickman and Brookes using the North West 200 for important track time ahead of their main focus of the road racing season on the Isle of Man next month, the controversy and a lack of “confidence” in the stewarding process means that the FHO Racing team felt compelled to withdraw from the remainder of the event, which will see most of its racing action take place on Saturday.

“The Superstock class technical regulations,” the FHO statement said, “mandate the machines must fully comply with conditions regarding the wheels, where Superstock machines must remain with the originally homologated wheels from the manufacturer, which from BMW are carbon.

“It then goes on to prohibit carbon material, however aftermarket wheels are also not allowed and no mandated alternative specification is prescribed.

“The FHO Racing BMW M1000RR machines passed scrutineering on Tuesday 9 May and were allowed to take part in all qualifying sessions before being informed they were not allowed to race moments before the Briggs Equipment Superstock race this evening.

Peter Hickman NW200


“[Having talked] this issue out with the fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 organisers, there is no confidence that the FHO Racing riders could take part in a race with the obvious dangers and risks that road racing presents and then [not have] the performance protested or disqualified on a technicality that is not adequately explained.

“The FHO Racing team have checked the 2023 technical regulations against those of 2022 and the regulations remain the same, where the team raced the carbon homologated wheels in both Superstock races, as well as the event in 2019.”

Adding further controversy to the matter is that Seeley, the eventual race winner, was also riding a 2023 BMW M1000R – but, it seems, one fitted with the forged aluminium wheels which the German firm offers as an optional extra for the machine, rather than as stock items.

However, it’s also unclear which version of the wheels was included in the FIM homologation process, which requires manufacturers to submit physical wheels to technical stewards for assessment, for the 2023 model.

Peter Hickman North West 200

Should it emerge the metal wheels were not included in that process, then under the exact wording of the rules it seems that all of BMW’s M1000RR machines (including Seeley’s race-winning bike) would be ineligible for the event.

The controversy brings further negative headlines to an event that has already been at the centre of bad news for months, after insurance price increases meant that the event was originally set to not take place, only for the organisers to then turn to the public for donations in order to pay this year’s premium.

It’s also not the only recent technical stewarding issue at the event, either, with Richard Cooper losing both of his Supertwin victories at last year’s event after his KMR Kawasaki was found to be running an illegal fairing. That decision was appealed by the team at the time and, one year on, that appeal is still unresolved by the MCUI stewards.

Speaking in their own statement shortly after the day’s action concluded, the organisers were quick to distance themselves from the decision made by the race stewards, who are part of Northern Irish governing body the MCUI rather than the NW200 management.

North West 200

Their statement said they were informed of the stewards’ “final and binding” decision “at 9.30pm on Thursday night”.

“No such action had been discussed with the NW200 organisers prior to this time despite the machines having been scrutineered on both Tuesday and Thursday morning.

“We deeply regret the FHO Racing BMW team’s decision to withdraw from the event tonight as a result of this action, a sentiment we know will be shared by all NW200 race fans.”

The night’s other race was won by rising star Davey Todd, with the Padgett’s Honda rider taking an impressive victory over Seeley and Cooper to kick-start his own aspirations of TT wins next month.

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