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Lee Johnston has Supertwin ambition aboard a KMR Kawasaki


Revved up: Lee Johnston is eager to leave a difficult 2016 firmly in the past

Revved up: Lee Johnston is eager to leave a difficult 2016 firmly in the past

Double Red

Revved up: Lee Johnston is eager to leave a difficult 2016 firmly in the past

Fermanagh's Lee Johnston is aiming to rediscover the form that took him to international road racing victories in 2014 and 2015 when his season gets under way on the north coast at this year's Vauxhall International North West 200 next month.

This year, the 28-year-old will ride for Jackson Racing aboard Honda machinery in the Supersport, Superstock and Superbike classes, with a return to Supertwin action also forthcoming aboard an Air Ambulance Northern Ireland-liveried KMR Kawasaki.

Last year will be one that the former East Coast Racing pilot will want to forget for various reasons, as after struggling with injury following an early-season crash at Scarborough he sadly lost his father Everett - a well-respected figure in the racing paddock - to cancer.

Speaking trackside from Castle Combe in Wiltshire, which has been a favoured base for Honda UK to test with Dunlop tyres pre-season, he said: "I've ridden more in pre-season than I've ever done and it feels great not to be riding the bike aching all over like I did last year.

"I'm going straight to Le Mans to be the spare rider in the Honda team this weekend, then we've got another Dunlop test planned and we may take in the Spring Cup at Scarborough before the North West."

A bit lighter and looking young enough to get an entry in the British Championship's KTM Junior Cup, having shaving his beard off while at Castle Combe, he joked: "I went for a shower and thought 'what the hell?' and shaved it off, and when I came down for dinner the boys could hardly recognise me."

Thankfully, jumping from BMW to Honda machinery this season hasn't given the Maguiresbridge lad too much of a headache and, as always, he's pragmatically ready for the challenge.

"I'm lucky that I don't need 10 million laps on a bike to get used to it. I've ridden the Hondas before and the one I'm on this year is the older specification, so it's pretty much the same apart from the stronger Ten Kate motor," he said of his Jackson Racing Superbike - previously ridden by former MotoGP World champion Nicky Hayden in the 2016 WSB series.

But what about his tie-up with fellow Ulsterman Ryan Farquhar, now retired and set to run four KMR Kawasakis at the Isle of Man TT; one of which the diminutive Fermanagh lad is set to campaign in both May and June?

"Ryan has always given me pieces of rubbish to ride to make himself look good," joked Johnston, who has previously ridden in Farquhar's team. Now back on a KMR '650', however, he will again start as one of the favourites for North West 200 honours and potentially a maiden TT win.

And how does he feel about a TT Supertwin return, after chasing the bigger prizes?

"I'll take the prize money at the TT on a donkey or a horse, I don't mind what it is and what class it's in; it makes no difference to me," said Johnston, who believes any victory around the challenging TT circuit is tough to achieve.

"I'd be delighted to grab my debut TT win on the KMR Twin. They are all hard earned."

Belfast Telegraph