North West 200: Harris stock rises with North West switch
One of the Vauxhall North West 200's highest profile newcomers has made a last minute switch of machinery ahead of next week's big event.
Former British Supersport champion Karl Harris was in danger of missing the biggest road race of the year when the PR Kawasaki squad he rides for in the British Superbike championship ran into financial difficulties.
But Ballymoney-based Millsport Racing stepped in to save the day for 'Bomber' Harris with the offer of a Superstock-spec 1199R Ducati Panigale.
"I have never ridden a Ducati before but the Panigale seemed very strong for a Superstock machine," Harris said after testing the bike at a damp Kirkistown on Thursday.
The 32-year-old will compete on the bike in four races – the Superstock event on Thursday evening and again in Saturday's Superstock race as well as both Superbike events on Saturday, May 18 race day.
The Panigale was the bike that the team's principal rider Lee Johnston was earmarked to race in this year's North West but the broken leg he suffered in a BSB crash at Thruxton a month ago has ruled him out of the bigger bike races, leaving his machine available to Harris.
"We are disappointed that Lee can't ride the bike but we are delighted to have Karl on it now and he has the capability to put in a very strong performance on the Ducati even though it is his first North West," team boss Patrick Murray said.
Murray also revealed that Johnston had ridden the squad's Supersport and Supertwin machines at Kirkistown on Thursday hopefully in preparation for an appearance on the Coast Road grid next week.
"Lee has no pins or anything in the leg and he has been receiving laser treatment as well as visiting a hyperbaric chamber to speed up the healing process," he explained.
"He was very comfortable – and fast – on both bikes at Kirkistown and if he passes a medical on Monday he will be fit to practice on Tuesday."
North West 200 practice and race schedule:
Tuesday, May 14: Roads close from 09:30am to 2:30pm for practices.
Practice order: Newcomers, Supersport, Superbike, Supertwins, Superstock.
Thursday, May 16: Roads close from 09:30am to 2:30pm for practices and from 5:15pm to 9:00pm for racing
Practice order: Supertwins, Superstock, Supersport and Superbike
Race order: Supersport (6 laps, 6:00pm), Supertwins (4 laps, 7:00pm), Superstock (6 laps, 8:00pm)
Saturday, May 18: Roads close from 10:00am to 6:30pm for racing
Race order: Supersport, Superbikes, Supertwins, Superstock, Superbike