Belfast Telegraph

Lee has the firepower to silence Macau's big guns

By Paul Lindsay

Saturday's 48th Macau Grand Prix will bring the curtain down on the International Road Racing season with Pirtek Honda-mounted Lee Johnston looking to upset the formbook and steal in for a podium, which would be a fitting end to a successful year for the diminutive Fermanagh lad.

Speaking from Macau, Johnston said: "I've had a couple of runs out at Macau but this year I'm taking things a bit more serious and I don't see why, if we qualify well and get away with the front men, that I can't at least grab a podium."

Pragmatic as always, Johnston added: "Our bike has two wheels and a pair of handlebars just like the rest and I do love the circuit, so let's see what we can do.

"I know it won't be easy with (Michael) Rutter, Hutchy (Ian Hutchinson) and (Stuart) Easton the big favourites, but that's all part of the challenge."

The tight and twisty 3.8-mile Guia Circuit boasts 19 turns on narrow and bumpy Armco-lined public roads. It's not everyone's idea of fun on two wheels and, if the Maguiresbridge ace is to finish in the top three, he will have to overcome two circuit specialists.

Veteran racer Rutter has booked himself a top step at Macau on eight occasions, and having acquired himself last year's winning machine in the form of SMR's factory specification Milwaukee Yamaha R1 - taken to victory 12 months ago by Hutchinson - the Midlander will start as slight favourite.

Slight favourite because, for me, Scottish ace Easton - four times a Macau GP winner in both Superbike and Supersport classes - is hungry to end his season on a high.

The Macau Grand Prix lap record holder hasn't raced here since 2010, the year of his third Superbike victory.

And although he openly admits that the circuit is 'scary', he also believes that campaigning his regular British championship PBM Kawasaki ZX10R should give him an edge.

"I'd say I'm in a good place, as I'm coming to Macau riding the same bike I've been on all year, and we had a decent end to the season," explained the Hawick rider, who finished strongly to take seventh place in this year's British Superbike Championship.

"I'll be looking to pick up where we left off at Brands Hatch on the PBM Kawasaki, but I'll not be giving it the 'big talk' before the event as there is some serious opposition to contend with this year," Easton added.

The serious opposition he refers to are Rutter and, of course, last year's winner Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, who was dumped by the SMR squad earlier this year, will be Easton's PBM Kawasaki team-mate at Macau, but rumours are rife that the five-in-a-week TT winner must triumph to guarantee himself a ride with Cumbrian businessman Paul Bird's team in 2015.

Outside of the aforementioned trio, the last man to win a Macau Grand Prix was TT legend John McGuinness back in 2001.

The likes of upcoming stars Martin Jessopp (Riders BMW) and our very own Lee Johnston will certainly be looking to upset the big guns at Macau.

TT winner Gary Johnson will also be looking to make a statement aboard the Quattro Plant Honda on his return from injury.

Ulsterman Jamie Hamilton (Wilson Craig Racing) and Stephen Thompson (Penz13 BMW) will be targeting top 10 finishes at the weekend.

Other locals on the entry list are Saintfield's Davy Morgan (CMS Honda) and the Cookstown B.E Racing duo of Michael Sweeney and Brian McCormack.

Practice takes place today and tomorrow with the 12-lap race scheduled for 7.30am (GMT) on Saturday.

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