North West 200: Derek Sheils relishing chance to prove he's a perfect 10
Derek Sheils is in no doubt the advantage of having a slickly run team behind him has laid the foundations for his steady rise through the international road racing ranks.
The Dubliner has long been regarded as a formidable opponent at the smaller National meetings, but he is now beginning to make his mark on the big stage.
After joining John Burrows’ Cookstown BE Racing team last season, Sheils enjoyed a solid Isle of Man TT, where he raised his personal best lap time from 122mph to 126.9mph on the Suzuki GSX-R1000. He then claimed his maiden international rostrum with a strong ride to second place in the Supertwins class at the Ulster Grand Prix and shone again on his debut at the Macau Grand Prix, where he finished ninth last November.
The Irish Superbike and Supertwins road racing champion is now in his second year in Burrows’ Dungannon-based outfit and has carried his form into 2017, winning the Superbike races at the Tandragee 100 and Cookstown 100 last month.
He missed the Vauxhall International North West 200 in 2015 and 2016, but Sheils made up for lost time on Thursday night with a solid seventh place in the Superstock race and fifth in the first Supertwins event.
His target this year is to develop into a regular top-10 finisher at the big international meetings and Sheils is encouraged by his progress.
“It’s a case of so far, so good and I think we could’ve had a sixth place in the Superstock race on Thursday but we were struggling a bit in some areas,” Sheils said. “We’re going to make a few changes for Saturday but this is the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 and there’s still a lot of work to be done with the bike.
“I had only ridden the bike once before at Kirkistown and I know a few other riders dropped out of the race, which aided our cause, but it’s still a good result.”
Sheils feels right at home within the Burrows team and believes in the old adage that a happy rider is a fast rider.
“I set my goal this year of getting into the top 10 at the internationals and to do that, you definitely need a good team behind you,” he added. “The Burrows boys are 100 per cent, they’re all tuned in and I get on with everyone and I’ve got confidence getting on the bikes.
“The Suzuki Superbike is a good machine and handles really well. It’s not the newest bike on the grid but I like it.
“I was surprised by how good the bike was at the North West because I’ve never ridden it here before. It’s not easy because you’re up against so many good bikes and riders, but judging by our lap time in qualifying, I think we’ve a good chance of getting well inside the top 10 in Saturday’s Superbike races.”
Sheils previously finished fifth in the Superstock race at the North West in 2013 but was forced to skip a few years due to financial restraints, although the 33-year-old also admits he finds the event ‘frustrating’ from a racer’s perspective.
“I missed a few because if you’re coming here with a tight budget, it’s a hard race to compete in. You can ride as hard as you want along the Coast Road but if someone has a bit more horsepower than you, then you’re not going to beat them,” he said.
“That’s the frustrating thing about it, but it’s a great event for John and his sponsors. It’s also a good chance to get the bikes settled before the TT.”