Champion Kneen out to mix at Dundrod's business end
Recently-crowned Irish Road Racing Superbike champion Dan Kneen has had a dream year in the colours of former racer John Burrows' Cookstown B.E Racing team. The 27-year-old Manxman will now be looking to close in on his debut international road racing podium at this week's Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix.
It will only be Kneen's third appearance at Dundrod, but having obliterated the opposition on the national scene this year in the premier class (as a newcomer) the question is, can the former Superstock 600cc British Championship race winner sneak onto the podium alongside Messrs. Martin and Dunlop?
Speaking from Dundrod prior to yesterday's opening practice sessions, the newly crowned Irish and Ulster Superbike champion said: "It's been an awesome year. I always knew I had the ability, but joining the Cookstown B.E Racing team has allowed me to concentrate on the racing this year.
"That's been the difference. I didn't expect to be champion at the start of the year when we went to Cookstown, but it's been good."
Despite top 10 finishes at this year's TT and similar results at the UGP since his debut in 2012, not forgetting a plethora of wins and grand final victories on the national scene this term, the Manxman's aspirations for Dundrod remain realistic, if not a little guarded.
"People have asked me can I get on the podium at the Ulster and I don't see why not, but I don't like making predictions. I do like the circuit at Dundrod and hope I can keep the good run of results going," Kneen said, his vernacular very like fellow countryman Conor Cummins, who himself won the Irish Superbike title at his first attempt back in 2007 at just 21 years of age.
The man who has kept the Manx youngster's feet firmly on the ground this term is former racer and successful Dungannon businessman John Burrows. Burrows has steadily grown a strong and reputable Irish national team, well known not to cut corners, putting the majority of his budget into hardware and picking his riders wisely.
Granted, Kneen has been knocking on the door for a few seasons, but credit must go to Burrows, who saw an opportunity to hone the young Manxman's skills. The question is, can the Dungannon man's small self-funded team keep hold of the prodigiously talented young road racer?
Pragmatic and honest as always, Burrows said: "We would obviously like to keep Dan on board, but we aren't anywhere close to securing him for next year just yet, although he is keen to stay."
As many other riders have found out to their cost, the grass is not always greener in the so-called bigger teams. Burrows' B.E Racing outfit do work closely with TAS Racing (Tyco Suzuki) in Moneymore, and Kneen's Superbike wouldn't be a million miles away from the GSX-R1000 Superbike machinery both Martin and William Dunlop will be riding this week.
"That's pretty much true," said Burrows. "Philip (Neill) is good to us and Dan's bike wouldn't be that much different from what the Tyco boys would be running. As a small team we can pick and choose the bikes we use, as we have no manufacturer commitment, which is also a bonus."
Looking ahead to Saturday's UGP, Burrows concluded: "But there's no pressure on the lad. Winning the Irish Superbike Championship was a dream for us. We all love results; that's what we are here for, but I'd be very happy with consistent top six finishes at Dundrod in such a top class field."