Road racing star Lee Johnston eyes a new team for 2017
International road racing star Lee Johnston is on the lookout for a new team after his English-based East Coast Construction team announced last night that they would be taking an undefined break from racing with immediate effect.
Keen to put the record straight, Johnston said: "Team boss Phil Reed just decided he wanted to call it a day, so there's no juicy story.
"We are still good friends and I wouldn't be where I am without him, to be honest. It's just time to move on and have a go at something else in racing."
Despite a low-key season in 2016, which ended with a broken collarbone during practice at the Ulster Grand Prix, the Fermanagh ace has enjoyed tangible success with East Coast Racing these past three seasons.
It all started with double in the Supertwin class at the Vauxhall International North West 200 back in 2014, but it was 12 months later that Lee finally made a name for himself in the 1000cc category - taking a North West 200 Superstock win for Reed and East Coast Racing.
An Isle of Man TT podium in the same class followed just a few weeks later and with that came membership to the 130mph Club. The icing on the cake would then come at the Ulster Grand Prix when Johnston scored a magnificent hat-trick, that also earned him the man of the meeting award.
2016 was to be a luckless year for quirky Maguiresbridge rider, with crashes at Scarborough and the aforementioned tumble at the Ulster, but the loss of his father Everitt - a true gentleman in every respect - at the end of August, after a lengthy battle with cancer, left Lee with some soul-searching to do.
"I've had a rubbish year in 2016, and after I lost my dad, I did have a good think about it to be honest," said Johnston of his father, who he also described as his best mate.
"I spoke to my mum about it and she's fully supportive of me continuing with my racing. As a matter of fact I've been very fortunate to have two parents who have always been right behind me, and some really good sponsors who are with me for the right reasons," he explained.
Looking ahead to 2017, and the potential options on the table, Johnston was candid in his summing up, but guarded enough not to give too much away.
"I went to Donington British Superbikes a few weeks ago to talk to a few teams, more so to set the record straight as there was talk that I was packing it in," he said of the usual paddock gossip at this time of year.
"If I'm honest I could sign a deal in the morning, which is nice," said Johnston. "It's good that I can go in and out of quite of few of the top team's garages in the British Superbikes paddock and the response has been very positive." Like many of his current peers, the diminutive racer believes that a season in BSB would sharpen him up for the road racing season, but as we have come to expect from the typically no-nonsense Fermanagh lad, he's keeping his feet on the ground.
"Some of the teams I spoke to want to do 'the full job' for me, and that would include either a British Supersport or Superstock ride and the international roads. Yes it would be ideal to stay on a BMW, but a change of manufacturer would not worry me."