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Johnston is retaining focus as he attracts widespread attention


Wanted man: Lee Johnston’s displays at the Isle of Man TT have raised the Fermanagh man’s profile

Wanted man: Lee Johnston’s displays at the Isle of Man TT have raised the Fermanagh man’s profile

Wanted man: Lee Johnston’s displays at the Isle of Man TT have raised the Fermanagh man’s profile

Fermanagh flyer Lee Johnston has installed himself as favourite for tomorrow's Bennetts Lightweight TT race after setting the fastest lap in practice at 119.087mph. It would be a fitting debut victory for the 26-year-old, who has had a phenomenal Isle of Man TT Festival to date.

Johnston took his debut podium in Tuesday's four-lap RL360 Superstock race behind Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop and having recorded his first 130mph lap in the process, the diminutive Ulsterman is being tipped for bigger things.

The TT paddock is full of the usual gossip, but the East Coast Racing pilot's quality performance on team owner Phil Reed's BMW S1000RR already has him on the fans' shortlist to replace either Guy Martin or William Dunlop at Tyco BMW.

"Get Micky D and the General Lee on those bikes," was one comment as I quizzed fans about their take on the end of season merry-go-round, which, in reality, is just a few months away.

But as you would expect, Johnston shrugs it off and pays tribute to his East Coast Racing crew.

"To come here as a privateer outfit and get two podiums and a top six, I have to give full credit to the team. Okay, we weren't quite there on the Superbike, but to do 130.8mph on a Superstock bike is pretty good. It proves that little people can ride a big bike," joked Johnston, whose previous best was 127mph.

It's a quantum leap in terms of lap speed for the Maguiresbridge lad, and yes he's 100 per cent correct - he has proved an awful lot this TT.

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The question is, would he want to leave Reed's team, with more than decent machinery and a back-up squad with a lot of experience?

"The boys here have won something like 20 TTs between them and they keep me sensible and tell me, 'keep it steady and you will win one soon enough' but I obviously want to win one now," Johnston explained.

"If something else came up, it would take a severe amount of persuasion to leave this team, and hypothetically if I did, I'd want to take these boys with me.

"Two years ago no one knew who I was and they were happy enough to take me under their wing, so if they didn't want to come with me, it's quite simple, I wouldn't be going anywhere," he explained with a certain amount of aplomb.

Looking ahead to tomorrow's Lightweight race, Johnston said: "We nearly set lap-record pace without even trying and that added a bit of hype to the whole thing, which I didn't want as I'd have preferred to fly under the radar.

"The Lightweight race really is a proper class now and I've just been down to speak to Ryan (Farquhar) and everything is ready, so there's no reason why we both can't be on the podium," he said of KMR Kawasaki team owner Farquhar, whose best practice lap of 118.899mph was just two seconds slower than that recorded by his new employee.

TT aside, Johnston is already looking forward to August's Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix and he explained his aspirations.

"I'd love to win a Superbike race at Dundrod as I love the place," he said with a glint in his eye.

"I have been going there to watch the event since I was just a little nipper, and it was the first road race where I properly jumped on a big bike."

In conclusion, Johnston said: "Don't get me wrong, I'd really love to be up there in Friday's Senior here on the Isle of Man at the TT and if I could get into those top six positions then I'd be over the moon."