Hutchy and Johnston hope to be a winning combination for Honda
The worst kept secret in motor racing has finally been made public - Ian Hutchinson and Lee Johnston will line up for Honda Racing next year and contest the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix aboard the Honda Fireblade SP2 in the Superbike and Superstock classes.
Both are no strangers to Honda with 16-time TT winner Hutchinson claiming his unique five-in-a-week TT success with the Padgetts Honda team in 2010, while Johnston also has strong links with the Louth-based team, having worked closely with the Honda Endurance Racing Team as their Le Mans 24-hour reserve rider.
May's North West 200 will see the new line-up make their road race debut and Honda know all eyes will be on their team after a poor 2017.
This year, John McGuinness uncharacteristically crashed heavily due to a suspected problem with the machine - which has left his future unclear - and Guy Martin was withdrawn from the NW200 Superbike races because of the uncertainty surrounding the machine.
Honda will have worked tirelessly to cure the SP2 problems and, although past NW200 winners Hutchy and Johnston will have been reassured the issues have been sorted, they will probably approach the first few laps at the Triangle with a little trepidation come May.
The diminutive Johnston, who turns 29 today, said: "I am genuinely excited about being with Honda Racing next year, the most excited I've been in years if I'm honest.
"I have had two tough years and it's nice to have everything organised and in place early, which is the biggest thing for me. I've ridden the Fireblade SP2 already at Le Mans, so I've got a bit of a head start. I just can't wait for testing to start in March and then onto the North West 200."
Hutchinson - still recovering from the broken leg he sustained in his Senior TT accident in June - commented: "This is a new challenge and a fresh start for me. I haven't ridden the new Fireblade SP2 and will have to wait until we go testing early next year. The Honda team have a lot of experience at the TT and the history speaks for itself, so I'm confident that come the New Year we can start aiming towards where we want to be when the season starts - winning."
Meanwhile, Temple Club stalwart and staunch supporter of road racing, Sam McBride, has passed away. Sam sponsored many competitors and events through McBride's Fashions of Temple Crossroads, having been the overall sponsor of the Irish 250GP Road Race Championship between 1990 and 1993.
Two abiding memories of Sam were firstly his purchase of a double decker bus that travelled to many road, short circuits and the Temple Club Brian Bell Motocross.
The upstairs was used as the timekeeper's base and the downstairs as a hospitality/press centre. Secondly, Temple Club press launches for motocross, trials or road races at Sam's house, close to Prentices Cross on the Temple Circuit, were infamous with the late Jimmy Walker and Hector Neill leading sing songs.
Condolences are extended to his wife Valerie, sons Joe and Mark and daughter Sharron and the family circle at this time.
A celebration of Sam's life will be held today at 2pm in Temple Golf and Country Club.