Belfast Telegraph

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Dunlop and Johnston are edging close to new season bike deals


By Roy Harris

The off-season merry-go-round of teams and riders divulging who and what machines they will be competing for and on in 2018 has been in full-swing in recent weeks, although a few individuals have stayed tight-lipped.

Two of our local road-race stars, William Dunlop and Lee Johnston, have yet to confirm their plans, although the rumour mill has been busy as to their intentions, the best bet being that both will undoubtedly be on the grid come the major international road races in the season ahead.

All William would confirm is that he has a brand new Supersport Yamaha for next season.

"The one I was riding was four or five years old and we just refreshed as we went along," he said. "This is a brand-new model, similar to the one that won the World Supersport championship, and will run under the Caffrey International/Ivan Curren banner."

However, on the Superbike front, he was not giving anything away, saying: "I've had no luck the last few years with announcing deals early, deals that seemed OK at the time and then fell apart before a wheel was turned at Cookstown or the North West. That immediately puts you on the back foot."

William had the Mar-Train R1 Yamahas 'on loan' for 2017 and it would not come as a shock if haulage boss Tim Martin's machines were back on the grid again in 2018, whether under the Mar-Train or Temple Golf Club banner.

William Dunlop

William would also not be drawn on any 2018 tie-up saying: "When I got the bikes from Tim, the agreement was that I would leave them back at the end of the season as I had found them and that was what I did."

William, on his day, is a match for the best and irrespective of what machine he competes on in the Superbike or Superstock class, he can never be ruled out from a top six result.

Fermanagh's Lee Johnston is another heavily linked to all and sundry, possibly joining Ian Hutchinson in a new-look Honda UK team for 2018. Everyone on the motorcycle racing planet seems aware of an anticipated announcement. But just when seems to be on hold, probably over contractual issues.

This would be a huge step for Johnston, a North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix winner, and shows the undoubted ability the Hull-based rider possesses as a high-quality road racer - even to be considered for what Honda must see as a damage repair job considering their 2017 experiences.

Hutchinson did, of course, have his unique five solo race wins in 2010 on Padgetts Honda machines and is confident of adding to his total of 16 TT wins.

He must be to have quit the Tyco BMW team he has had such success with over the last two seasons.

Lee Johnston

It all makes for an intriguing 2018 ahead, and as yet we have not heard from Michael Dunlop, who again keeps his huge fan base waiting and guessing as to his plans.

Will it be Suzuki, BMW, Shaun Muir Racing or even a link up with Norton, which wouldn't ­altogether be as big a shock as it may seem with the 15-time TT winner and outright lap record holder loving a new challenge and win TT's on as many different machines as possible.

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