Sky's the limit for Ryan Farquhar at Mid Antrim 150
After a three-year absence, the Mid Antrim 150 makes a welcome return to the Irish National Road Racing calendar this weekend, thanks to the support of title sponsor JMF Haulage.
This new early-April date affords the Mid Antrim 150 the distinction of raising the curtain of the 2016 season between the hedges, much to the delight of Dungannon's Ryan Farquhar - the only man to have won five-in-a-day around the 3.5-mile Clough Village-based circuit in County Antrim.
It is a feat he achieved in both 2010 and 2012 to go alongside his four-timer from the 2009 season.
"The Mid Antrim is a big favourite of mine and I've had some great results around there over the years," said Farquhar, who will campaign his all-new IEG-backed BMW S1000RR Superstock bike at the season-opener on Saturday, alongside his trusty KMR/SGS International ER6 Supertwin which is currently being rebuilt.
"Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I would probably have done better to stay at home and race on Easter Monday, but I went to Donington Park and apart from it being wet, windy and freezing cold, I crashed my Supertwin down through Craner Curves on the first lap of the race," explained Farquhar, who is now in a battle against the clock to get it ready for tomorrow's practice session.
"It's been a massive workload but that's racing. It could have been worse, but we will be on the grid and fingers crossed the weather is kind, as I could do with getting in some dry laps on the BMW."
Through the years, Farquhar has had some tremendous battles around the sinuous Mid Antrim 150 course, which for many is famous for its landmark hairpin in Clough Village, Alexander's Jump (or 'leap' as the fans refer to it) and the scarily fast run from Elder's to Waide's Mill.
"I've battled with many different riders at Mid Antrim; both Michael and William Dunlop, Guy Martin (above), Adrian Archibald, Keith Amor, Richard Britton, Darran Lindsay and one particular meeting, I remember having a real ding-dong with both Conor Cummins and Cameron Donald," said Farquhar.
"The circuit has a bit of everything in it, from hairpins to flat out straights, bumps and jumps and even slippy corners under trees, but it's somewhere I really clicked with."
Farquhar last won the Mid Antrim 150 Grand Final back in 2012 and his main adversary on that day was Derek Sheils, who could again be the man to beat, having joined the Cookstown B.E Racing squad for this season, where he will ride a former TAS Racing Suzuki Superbike.
The Dunlop name has always been a huge crowd puller at events between the hedges and this weekend will be no different with Gary Dunlop - son of the late, great Joey Dunlop - set to make his road racing debut.
Dunlop (right) did compete on the tarmac scene (2001-2003) not long after his father's death in 2000, but now older and wiser, the 32-year-old publican is ready to tick a box he's always wanted to put a bold 'X' in.
"I've left it until now as I'm 32 and no one is expecting me to go out and try to be challenging at the front," he said.
"When all is said and done, I just want to be regarded as another rider out there competing, because I enjoy it.
"My goal is to have a bit of fun with no pressure, then go back to the day job."
Thanks to the support of JMF Haulage, the Mid Antrim 150 boasts an £18,000 prize fund for this weekend, with the JMF Building Services Open Grand Final winner set to take home £1,500.
Roads close tomorrow for practice from 11am and re-open at 7.30pm.
On Race Day Saturday, roads close at 10am for a scheduled 12-race programme and re-open at 6.30pm.