PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 2024: Ian Hutchinson at Millbank Avenue on the Briggs Equipment North West 200 course during a vist to the north coast circuit this week. Hutchy crashed at that spot during his NW200 debut 20 years ago. He will return to action at this yearÕs event on May 6-11 after recovering from the stroke he suffered during 2023. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Ian Hutchinson will restart his road racing career at this year’s Briggs Equipment North West 200 after recovering from a stroke that sidelined his career during 2023.

The 44 year old became ill while cycling in Spain last February but is now fully recovered and will be on the grid at Portrush for race week on May 6-11.

Hutchy’s North West return will mark two decades since he made his debut at the north coast races but the Yorkshireman admits he doesn’t have particularly happy memories of his first appearance on the 8.9 mile Triangle course after he crashed out of the opening Newcomer’s practice session.

“I had won the Senior Manx Grand Prix Newcomer’s race the year before and thought I would give the North West a go.” Hutchy recalled during a recent visit to the scene of the incident at Millbank Avenue.

“I was completely on my own in the paddock and wasn’t really properly prepared as I set off in the first newcomer’s practice on my 600. Then the session was red flagged when someone crashed out at Black Hill and went over the cliff!”

Because of his inexperience, the gearing Hutchy had set on his Supersport machine was too low for the long North West straights. Struggling to change sprockets by himself during the break in proceedings, he ran out of time and was forced to jump on to his Superstock machine when the action resumed. A few seconds later he slid off at the first corner.

“A week in hospital with a cracked pelvis wasn’t a great start to my North West 200 career.” he recalls ruefully.

Undaunted by the painful experience, Hutchy would claim the first of three North West 200 victories just two years later in the Supersport class on a McAdoo Kawasaki.

“That was a special moment, winning a North West race with a local team.” he says.

In 2010 Hutchinson claimed a second 600cc victory at Portrush on a Padgett’s Racing Honda before going on to become the first rider to win all five solo races at that year’s Isle of Man TT with the Padgett’s squad. Another hat-trick during the 2010 Ulster Grand Prix emphasized his supremacy but Hutchy’s joy was shattered when he suffered a serious leg injury in a BSB crash at Silverstone just a few weeks later.

Enduring over 40 operations, Hutchinson battled his way back into contention on the roads but his career has been marked by a mixture of triumph and adversity ever since.

Alongside further success at the TT, UGP and Macau, Hutchy’s third and final NW200 triumph came in 2016 on a Tyco BMW when he got the better of Alastair Seeley at Metropole on the final lap to claim victory in a thrilling Superstock race.

“That win was particularly sweet because Alastair can outsmart anyone at the North West.” Hutchinson, who has enjoyed a total of 13 podium finishes at the north coast event, says.

“To beat Alastair on the last lap of that race on a day when he became the event’s most successful rider was special.”

Injury, illness and the Coronavirus pandemic may have blighted Hutchinson’s racing career in recent seasons but the gritty Yorkshireman’s fierce determination has propelled yet another comeback. He bounced back after breaking his leg again in a 2017 Senior TT crash and this latest return comes after successfully completing a series of medical tests that has allowed his race licence to be reinstated following his stroke.

Reunited with Clive Padgett and his Milenco-backed Honda squad for 2024, Hutchinson’s North West 200 return will be his first between the hedges appearance since the TT in 2022 where his best result was a fourth place finish in the Superbike race on a TAS Racing Milwaukee BMW. Hutchinson is realistic about his prospects but despite all the setbacks he has encountered, he hasn’t given up on becoming a race winner once again.

“I’ve raced in a couple of No Limits series meetings in England so far this year and will be out at Oulton Park in the May Day BSB meeting.” Hutchinson explained during his day on the north coast.

“I’ve probably been out of action too long now to be able to consider winning just yet but I want to be back out there racing. I know where I am now and I know where I can be. Only I can see that.”

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