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Michael Dunlop is out to prove he’s still the No.1 at Armoy

By Roy Harris

Roads close at 12.30pm this afternoon for official practice and the opening two races of the Armoy Motorcycle Road Racing Club Roadside Kia Race of Legends.

It is one of the most scenic Irish races around the picturesque three-mile circuit that winds its way through Armoy village, around Church Bends and back to the main Ballycastle Line — but its jumps, fast bends and tight hairpins test the competitors’ skill to the limit.

This is the home of the Armoy Armada — Joey Dunlop, Mervyn Robinson, Frank Kennedy and Jim Dunlop, who were an integral part of Irish road racing in the late 1970s and who put Armoy on the map.

Although only in its ninth season, the meeting has quickly become the leading national road race in Ireland, attracting competitors and spectators from around the globe.

Heading the entry this weekend is 15-time TT winner Michael Dunlop, who is chasing an unprecedented seventh Race of Legends victory in succession.

He has won it riding a Kawasaki, twice on a Honda and three times on a BMW and is now looking to put Suzuki on the top step of the podium. He is also the current lap record holder with a speed of 106.812mph set in 2013.

Clerk of the Course Bill Kennedy said: “I’m absolutely delighted that Michael will be racing this weekend. He has done exceptionally well this season on the new Suzuki at the TT and Southern 100 and will take some beating in the Roadside Kia Race of Legends.”

Older brother William could well be the man to take the race to Michael with a few upgrades to the Temple Golf Club R1 Yamaha.

With Derek Sheils, the defending Irish Open champion, a non-starter — because he cannot practice and qualify today as he is performing best man duties at friend Emmett Bannon’s wedding — and Guy Martin, who is hovering between retiring and staying on, not here, the leading challengers to the Dunlops will come in the form of Paul Jordan (left), Derek McGee, Michael Sweeney and James Cowton riding the McAdoo Kawasakis.

The Dunlops, Cowton, Adam McLean, Jordan, Christian Elkin, Sweeney and Darryl Tweed should set the Supersport class alight, while all eyes will be on a few of the 40-plus newcomers to Armoy, such as Davey Todd, Joey Thompson, Richard Charlton and American female competitor Patricia Fernandez, who is no stranger to Ulster Grand Prix fans but is making her national road race debut.

Gary Dunlop, Paul Robinson and Sam Dunlop head the line-up in the 125/Moto3 race, which also sees an old adversary of Joey and Robert Dunlop’s, veteran Ian Lougher, make his debut on an ILR Moto3 Honda.

In what should be a thrilling race, McGee, Sam Wilson, Elkin (a three-time winner of this class) and McLean will all be in with a shout.

Joseph Loughlin, meanwhile, has been taking the support classes by storm this season, but has also tasted success in national Supertwin races at the last two road races, so he will be worth watching again tonight and tomorrow as he makes his Armoy debut.

Eleven practice sessions are scheduled today prior to the seven-lap Senior Support and Supersport races.

Roads close at 10am tomorrow ahead of three parade laps followed by a nine-race programme beginning with the Junior Support, including 250GP machines, with the feature Roadside Kia Race of Legends over eight laps the big finale.

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