Stars revving up in Spain
In the good old days it was Kirkistown and Aghadowey where the majority of pre-season shakedown tests took place, but how times have changed, with a plethora of Irish talent currently basking in the Spanish sunshine at Cartagena.
Former Honda and Norton boss Barry Symmons' Pro Test has attracted the likes of Moneymore-based Tyco Suzuki and current British Supersport champions Mar-Train Racing.
ISB champion Nico Mawhinney gets the chance to rub shoulders with some of his heroes and the quirky little Irish Leprechaun Lee Johnson will also be adding his paddock humour to the line-up.
With former MotoGP star John Hopkins making his debut today for Tyco Suzuki and Newtownards-based Aussie Josh Brookes donning the vivid red Milwaukee Yamaha livery for the very first time – the paddock atmosphere is much like a British championship event.
Top local talent comes in the form of double British champion and 10-times North West 200 winner Alastair Seeley, whose crew chief and his new team Mar-Train Yamaha said he was instantly impressed with the team's British championship winning Yamaha R6 last week at Almeria – a little further down the east coast of Spain.
"The smile on his face said it all," remarked Andy Jamison, the no-nonsense chief spanner spinner at Mar-Train Racing; explaining just how Seeley gelled with the little Yamaha R6 when he rode it for the first time last week at the Spanish test track.
Seeley backed up Jamison's comments by adding: "I just couldn't fault the wee bike. We just moved the handlebar and foot peg position and after that it all came pretty good."
It didn't come quite so easy on the team's new ZX10R Kawasaki Superstock and Superbike, as he was tasked with testing Metzeler rubber for May's Vauxhall International North West 200; as well as trying to perfect the set-up in just three days but there's no doubting, come May 17, he will still be the man to beat.
One youngster who hopes to follow in the wheel-tracks of Seeley is near-neighbour Andy Reid. The talented Co Antrim tattoo artist returns to the very same circuit where he broke his leg almost two years to the day.
A natural on a 125GP machine, Reid has landed himself a berth at Shaun Muir's SMR team, where the Guisborough businessman has given him the opportunity to move up to the Superstock 600 class.
Wide eyed and living the dream in the Spanish sunshine, Reid said yesterday: "Two years ago here it all ended in tears, but here I am back in the paddock with a great opportunity."
Reid will ride for the FFX Yamaha team, a satellite effort of Muir's, which will run alongside his Milwaukee Yamaha set-up and, despite limited experience on a 600, the 19-year-old will be expected to challenge for the championship.
Keith Farmer is another Ulsterman on track today at Cartagena, and the Clogher Bullet will be looking to resurrect his British Superbike career with PR Kawasaki after a tough time at the end of last season.
A slightly more rotund looking Hopkins, meanwhile, rolled into the paddock hoping to pick up where he left off, after narrowly losing out on the BSB title by the width of a Pirelli tyre on the final day in 2011.
It's certainly going to be an interesting four days in Spain.