Ulster Grand Prix: Tragic shadow hangs over Lee Johnston's glory day
Saturday's Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix was overshadowed by the tragic death of 25-year-old Scottish rider Andy Lawson during the second Supersport race, following an incident at the Deer's Leap section of the Dundrod Circuit.
Treble winner at this year's event Lee Johnston was in no mood for celebrating as the East Coast Racing pilot said:"It's a massive blow to the sport of road racing. As riders we try to put these things to the back of our minds, as Andy would have done himself.
"We all know the risks when we decide to compete. It's very hard on the organisers, as the Dundrod & District Motor Club has made massive improvements to the Dundrod circuit, but you can never make motorsport totally safe, but at this time everyone's thoughts are with Andy's family."
Maguiresbridge rider Johnston's three wins came in the Superstock race and two Supersport races.
Johnston, who only made his debut at Dundrod in 2012, arrived looking for his first win at the Ulster Grand Prix, but having had 24 hours to reflect on his feat - taking three in a day - he described it as an absolute dream come true.
"We often forget that Dundrod hosted rounds of the world championship. It really is a special circuit and having chatted to double TT Formula 2 World champion Brian Reid on the podium, I felt privileged to have even got the chance to stand on the same platform as Brian and the likes of Joey Dunlop," said Johnston.
He revealed, though: "There was no party last night for me or any of the East Coast Racing boys."
As a BMW Motorrad supported rider, Johnston led home a freight train of German machinery in the opening race of the day, the Superstock. The top six machines all had the iconic BMW badge emblazoned on the tank, but it was the S1000RR machine of Johnston that made the top step with a new lap record of 132.793mph to boot.
Johnston's victory was by a slender 9/1000ths of a second over British Superbike regular Peter Hickman, who went on to win the final Superbike race of day on his Briggs Equipment BMW, with an out-of-sorts Michael Dunlop third, albeit some six seconds adrift of the new kids on the block on his MD Racing BMW.
In the opening Supersport race, William Dunlop did stake a late claim for victory by taking the lead from his Fermanagh pilot as they went onto the last lap, but Johnston was having none of it, and set a new lap record on the final circuit of the 7.4-mile Dundrod Circuit to take the win over Dunlop by 3/100ths of a second.
Johnston took his third win of the day, and his second in the Supersport class aboard the ECR/Burdens 675cc Triumph in race five on the UGP schedule.
British Supersport Championship contender Glenn Irwin, from Carrick, who was third in the opening Supersport encounter, led in the early exchanges, but when the race was stopped for the red flag incident involving Andy Lawson, Johnston was declared the winner, with the result taken from the end of the third lap.
There was controversy in the feature UGP Superbike race, which was also red flagged because of an incident involving Tom McHale, with the win going the way of Padgetts' Honda veteran Bruce Anstey, much to the dismay of PBM Kawasaki's Ian Hutchinson who was leading at the time of the stoppage.
A wet Supertwins race was won by Mullingar man Derek McGee with Sam Wilson a popular victor in the Lightweight race aboard the Joey's Bar MCC 250cc Honda.
And in only his second year of competition at Dundrod, 28-year-old Peter Hickman took his debut win at Dundrod in the IFS Global Logistics Superbike encounter after Johnston and Anstey decided to sit it out.