North West 200: Lee Johnston in fine form as he targets Supersport class victory
For anyone looking to predict a new recipient on the North West 200 Superbike winners' roll of honour, look no further than East Coast Racing's diminutive Fermanagh-born pilot Lee Johnston.
The 26-year-old, who is now based in Hull, made his mark last season with a double in the 650cc Supertwin classes, but is now ready to put his East Coast Racing BMW S1000RR to good use at the Triangle next weekend.
“The plan is to go to the North West 200 this year with a mindset to win and if not win, feature strongly in the Superbike class,” said the former Junior Superstock British champion.
“I’d be wasting Phil’s time and money if we didn’t go with a plan to win,” he explained, referring to team owner Phil Reed, who is also his day-to-day employer at East Coast Construction.
“Phil wants to win as much as I do, but we are a small family team and there’s no pressure on me,” Lee explained. “It’s a great atmosphere to ride in and even though we don’t have factory support like some of the others, with good lads around me and a good vibe in the team, it can actually make you go better.”
Lee’s recent preparation for the North West included a four timer during a May Day Club meeting at Darley Moor, as he explained.
“I had a run out at Darley Moor on May Day at a Club meeting and won all four races on the Superbike. We used it primarily as a test and got plenty of track time, but winning is winning and it made me feel good and allowed us to get a few race starts in.”
Having decided to sit out the Supertwin races at the North West this time around, Lee is confident he can make up for that loss in the Supersport class and is also quietly confident that the East Coast Racing team is well capable of pulling off a surprise in the Superbike classes next Saturday.
“The Supersport class has been my favourite class really for a few years. The first time I jumped on the new Triumph it felt good and I can’t lie, it feels really strong and I enjoy riding it. I have ridden a Triumph before but this one feels a bit special and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win.”
The ECR team may not be getting financial support from BMW for its Superbike and Superstock machinery, but they are getting technical assistance from BMW Motorrad, which will leave the Maguiresbridge lad’s machinery not that far away from the “factory” Tyco BMW squad.
“Our Superbike is standard apart from aftermarket suspension and brakes, which means we haven’t got anything fancy to cause us major issues. The Germans are not a bit stupid and they build good cars and bikes, so why change it?” he said candidly.
Asking Lee what the secret recipe is for success at the North West, he shared this information: “Obviously you have to be able to ride the bikes, but experience is the key and understanding how the slipstreaming works. If you are crafty enough to make the most of that and be strong on the coast road — it’s pretty simple really.”