Lee Johnston eyes repeat of Ulster Grand Prix treble
The 2015 Man of the Meeting at the MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix, Lee Johnston knows expectations on him will be high at Dundrod next week.
The East Coast Construction rider, one of the characters in the road racing paddocks, scored a hat trick of race wins at last year's event, taking the opening Superstock and both Supersport classes, as well as setting a new Supersport lap record at 128.913 mph.
The Fermanagh rider isn't complacent about his chances of repeat success however, recognising that even though he is upping his game, so, too, are his main competitors.
Lee acknowledged: "2015 was a breakthrough year for me, a podium at the TT and a hat trick of wins at Dundrod. It's hard to get two good years in a row, though, and I've had a bit of bad luck this year, particularly at the TT, and the crash at Scarborough held me back too. That's behind us now and I'm buzzing about getting to Dundrod to see what we can do.
"I won the Superstock race last year by less than a tenth of a second, followed by another hard fought win in the opening Supersport race ahead of William Dunlop. Those tight battles and mass starts are part of the appeal, close racing is so good for the fans. I don't choose for the races to be tight though, I'd rather win by 10 seconds and have no stress on the last lap but I think it's just that type of track with all the big slip-streaming going on and the good battles down the last two or three corners.
"I'm under no illusions about what it'll take to get onto the podium this year. Look at Michael, Hutchy and Dean at the TT, they were on awesome form. You'd nearly bet your house, if the weather is good at Dundrod, that the lap record will go again and it really could be anyone that does it. I'll be in the mix and trying my best. If I could do what I did last year I'd be a happy man - to win another three at the Ulster would be absolutely unbelievable. I just need to be near the front and competitive, I want to win."
Asked about the introduction of the Superpole qualifying session at this year's event and whether it will suit his style, Lee said he was looking forward to it.
"I'm not sure how it will suit me, it's a bit of an unknown," he admitted. "The good thing is that you're not going to hit any traffic out there, which probably leaves it a little bit safer for some of the front guys. In qualifying when you come up behind people it can ruin a lap - it's not their fault - everyone's out there trying to do their own thing but it's the way it is. There will be no excuses with Superpole - if you mess up it's no-one's fault but your own."
Johnston added: "I don't shy away from saying the Ulster is my favourite track of the year, I just really enjoy being there."
Lee's comments came as he helped his personal sponsor Maxwell Freight Services, one of the UK's leading freight and haulage firms, launch another year of race sponsorship at the MCE UGP.
Owner Tommy Maxwell said: "As a locally owned business we're very proud to support this fantastic event on our doorstep. Most folk around here know that my brother Terry and I love road racing and have supported the sport in various ways for years.
"In 2016 we took the decision to sponsor three great local guys... Lee Johnston, William Dunlop and Glenn Irwin. We were chuffed to see Glenn make the podium for the first time at Thruxton in July. It's a shame he won't be at Dundrod this year but we will be supporting Lee and William every step of the way in their bid for glory at the world's fastest road race."
UGP Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston said: "Lee has quickly become a real fan favourite at Dundrod, the circuit suits him and his style of riding.
"He's clearly got a great relationship with the team and the guys at East Coast Construction, and the familiarity with the people and the bikes is a massive bonus for Lee, too. He was last year's Jamieson Construction Man of the Meeting and it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to do the double, the field is wide open at this stage."
The MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix and Plant Lubrication Dundrod 150 road races run between August 8 and13th. For full details visit ulstergrandprix.net.