Lee Johnston is going back to the future
Man of the moment and treble podium finisher from last week's Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix Festival, Lee Johnston, is hoping for some retro success this Bank Holiday weekend at the Manx Classic TT on the Isle of Man.
Johnston will ride exotic 500cc Manx Norton and 350cc MV Agusta machinery in two separate classes on Saturday and Monday, and in the heavily marketed Formula 1 Classic TT encounter – also on Bank Holiday Monday – he will ride an XR69 Suzuki alongside team-mate for the day Michael Dunlop.
Johnston romped the Supertwin race during last Thursday's Dundrod 150 action, complementing his North West 200 double in the same class, but more importantly for the Hull-based Fermanagh lad, he proved his prowess on a Superbike, beating current TT master Michael Dunlop, and mixed it at the front with race winner Bruce Anstey and Dundrod specialist Guy Martin.
Speaking from Hull, where he returned from the Isle of Man for a work-based commitment, Johnston said: "Yeah I was most happy with the Superbike ride at the Ulster Grand Prix, because I'd say no-one expected me to be in a ding-dong battle with Bruce and Guy.
"On top of that to be able to keep up with them and beat Michael (Dunlop), who was on the same tyres as me, is pretty pleasing," added Johnston, who believes his choice of intermediate rubber over Anstey and Martin's option to run with a slick rear, possibly cost him the opportunity to battle for his first Ulster Grand Prix Superbike win.
"The tyre turned to mush on that last lap or I'd have been looking for the win, and it annoyed me a bit," explained the diminutive yet ultra-competitive Maguiresbridge rider, whose Pirtek Honda – albeit in the top speed ballpark – seemed to lack a little bit of grunt off the turns compared to Anstey's Valvoline by Padgetts Honda and Guy Martin's Tyco by TAS Suzuki.
"We are there now," he said confidently. "Front runners at the North West and Ulster Grand Prix and top six at the TT.
"The likes of William Dunlop – who I'm friendly with – has been around for a long time. He's coming 30 and I'm only 25 and that was just my third Ulster Grand Prix."
Looking ahead to the Classic Manx races, Johnston said confidently: "It would be lovely to win, of course it would. The bikes are competitive and feel good but the difference is massive. I've never done any classic racing before and they have no brakes compared to a modern bike, but if I'm comfortable I'll push and if not I won't," he said maturely.
"After that I'm going to do some British Supersport rounds and see if I can give Taylor Mackenzie a rattle," he chirped mischievously.
"The plan is to do Donington and maybe Assen; after that the next road race is Scarborough for the Gold Cup, then Macau in November."
So what of 2015?
"Well it would be very hard to leave where I am as Phil (Reed) is very good to me," said Johnston of his employer and sponsor, proprietor at East Coast Construction, the parent company heading up the Pirtek Honda team.