Lee Johnston all set to prove his top class at North West 200
Fermanagh's Lee Johnston was a double winner in the Supertwin category at last year's Vauxhall International North West 200, but he is looking for wins in the higher profile four-stroke classes this time around with his Burdens-backed East Coast Racing team.
"We have to go to the North West 200 this year with a mindset to win. I'd be wasting Phil's time and money if we didn't go with a plan to win," said the Hull-based Ulsterman, referring to team owner Phil Reed, who is also his day-to-day employer at East Coast Construction and a close friend.
"Phil wants to win as much as I do, but we are a small family team and there's no pressure on me.
"It's a great atmosphere to ride in and even though we don't have factory support like some of the others, with good lads around me and a good vibe in the team, it can actually make you perform better."
Speaking to me while lost during a pushbike race in the South of England, I asked him who he felt were his main contenders for victory in the North West 200 Superbike races.
"You could name about six, seven or maybe even 10. You can't count William or Michael (Dunlop) out on the Tyco BMW and Milwaukee Yamaha and Dean Harrison has had a couple of tough North Wests but has the pace and good bikes with Mar-Train."
After a short pause to look at a map to try and find out where he was, he added: "Then you have Bruce Anstey (Padgetts Honda) and Gary Johnson on a factory Kawasaki, and Conor Cummins is going well now with Honda."
Now on a roll like he was reading directly out of the official Vauxhall International North West 200 programme, he said: "Then of course you have Alastair Seeley going for the record and you can't write off Guy (Martin) with both of those boys on Tyco BMWs.
"Add in Derek McGee on Wilson Craig's Honda and Jamie Hamilton (B.E Racing Suzuki) as they have had a couple of wet races already this season, because you never know what the weather can do. It's not going to be easy."
Johnston's recent preparation for the North West has included a four timer during a May Day Club meeting at Darley Moor, but also an unplanned high-speed slip off his 675 East Coast Racing Triumph last Friday, as he explained.
"The preparation has been going mostly well but I jumped off the Triumph at about 100mph during a test at Cadwell Park last Friday. I could have done without that, but I'm not too bad," he said.
"I was at Darley Moor on Monday doing a Club meeting and won all four races on the Superbike.
"We used it primarily as a test and got plenty of track time, but winning is winning and it made me feel good and allowed us to get a few race starts in.
"I did get out at Scarborough last month, but all the testing in the world doesn't give you the feeling of pulling up to the line and going racing."
Despite having to sit out the Supertwin races, Johnston is confident that he can make up for it in the Supersport class and is also quietly positive that the East Coast Racing team are well capable of pulling off a surprise in the Superbike classes on BMW's S1000RR on the north coast on May 16.
"The Supersport class has been my favourite class really for a few years. The first time I jumped on the Triumph it felt good and I can't lie, it feels really strong and I enjoy riding it," he continued.
"In saying that, the goal is to turn my main attention to the Superbike class, as that's the one I really want to win, but no amount of circuit racing can prepare you for the 200mph action at the North West. I can't wait!"