When the chequered flag went out to end the first practice session for the Relentless North West 200 on Tuesday evening, there were a few raised eyebrows at seeing the third man on the list.
Martin Jessopp from Yeovil in Somerset is only riding in his fourth North West and to date had never finished inside the top 10, hence the surprise when he clocked a speed of 116.949mph on the sixth of seven laps.
It earned him a provisional front row starting position, with just this morning’s final qualifying session remaining, alongside team-mate Michael Rutter in the Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati Team who had just finished in second position.
A year ago, at the North West, mechanical gremlins halted the Ducati’s progress, but the team have certainly bounced back in fine style.
“We know what the Ducati is capable of. What it lacks in top speed
on the fast sections here, it well makes up for on other parts of the circuit,” explained Jessopp.
“We are not getting carried away just yet with one more qualifying session still to go.
“Michael and Alastair (Seeley) are experts around here and just to be in the ball park with them is brilliant and a confidence boost for me.
“There are still a lot of other riders who have yet to show their hand this week.”
A regular in the British Superbike Championship, 25-year old Jessopp is a former schoolboy motocrosser, racing from the age of six before moving in 1999 to the tarmac scene, taking in the Aprilia Superteen series in England.
Since then he has moved through the ranks, taking part in endurance racing, British Superstock and Supersport Championships before racing in the full British Superbike series in 2008 when he finished second in the Superbike Cup category behind local rider John Laverty.
Last year saw Jessopp had his best ever start to his Superbike campaign scoring fifth and sixth place finishes at the ultra-fast Thruxton circuit, but things all went a little pear-shaped three rounds later at Mallory Park, when he crashed, breaking his tibia and fibula, his season thus ending prematurely.
Up until the North West he has been struggling to find his form in 2011, his best finish in BSB being ninth in the opening race of the season at Brands Hatch.
However, he couldn’t have picked a better time to return to form on Tuesday night.
The machines Jessopp and Rutter are racing this weekend are factory specification 1198R Ducati’s, virtually the same as the Althea Ducati that Carlos Checa leads the World Superbike Championship on.
Both Jessopp and Rutter were second and third fastest through the speed trap at 192 and 193mph just behind fastest man Stuart Easton, who clocked 194mph.
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