Michael Dunlop threw down the gauntlet as he clinched a hard-earned double at the Armoy Road Races last night.
The Ballymoney man made a winning return in his first road race since the 2019 Classic TT, opening his account with a record-breaking win in the Lightweight Supersport race before sealing a brace with victory in the opening Supersport event.
Dunlop, who is gunning for a record ninth straight win in the blue riband ‘Race of Legends’ today, has now won 21 times at his home meeting.
In a gripping Supersport event, pole man Dunlop became embroiled in a battle with Tobermore’s Adam McLean.
The leading duo pulled clear of the chasing pack and traded places over the five-lap encounter, but it was Dunlop who upped the ante on the final lap, edging clear to win by 1.7s as he clocked the fastest lap of the race at 102.769mph.
Davey Todd finished a comfortable third on the Wilson Craig Honda, while Cork’s Mike Browne came out on top of a battle for fourth ahead of his Burrows Engineering/RK Racing team-mate, Paul Jordan, and Dominic Herbertson from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Jordan was able to race despite an earlier crash during practice for the class.
Two of the main contenders, Michael Sweeney and Derek McGee, were non-starters, with McGee pulling his Kawasaki off the grid moments before the race began.
Dunlop earlier got off the mark as he made a rare return on a 250cc Honda, narrowly holding off McGee (Faraldo Racing 450) to win the Lightweight Supersport/250GP race.
Both riders broke the lap record, with Dunlop having the final say as he set a new mark of 95.354mph.
The race was re-started over five laps after Neil Kernohan came off at Acheson’s Leap, but was said to be ‘up on his feet’.
Dunlop didn’t compete at the Cookstown 100 last year, the only Irish road race to go ahead in 2020, but the enforced break due to the coronavirus impact has allowed him to overcome a number of niggling injuries he sustained in 2019.
“It’s been good, I’ve got time to heal from my injuries and in 2019 I suffered a lot from injury,” he said.
“The body has got time to heal again and it leaves myself in a stronger and better position where I can be fit and battle again.”
Armoy is one of only two Irish road races set to take place this year, with the postponed Cookstown 100 in Co Tyrone scheduled for September 10-11.
A packed qualifying programme was completed before yesterday’s first two races, with Derek Sheils wrapping up pole for the Open and ‘Race of Legends’ races on his Roadhouse Macau BMW.
Sheils posted his fastest lap of 103.98mph on the fourth of five qualifying laps to edge out Sweeney by 0.074s.
Mike Browne defied his relative inexperience on the biggest capacity machines as he slotted into third on the front row on the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing Suzuki, with McGee next on his Kawasaki ZX-10R, 1.4s behind pacesetter Sheils.
Dunlop could only manage fifth after he failed to get a clear run on the SYNETIQ BMW.
North West 200 winner Todd was sixth on Wilson Craig’s Honda Fireblade, with McLean next on the McAdoo Racing Kawasaki.
McGee will start from pole in the Supertwin class on Ryan Farquhar’s KMR Kawasaki as he edged out McLean (McAdoo Kawasaki) by 1.1s, with Joe Loughlin from Castleblayney completing the top three.
Fan favourite Guy Martin was quickest in the Senior Classic session on his 750 BSA from Welsh veteran Ian Lougher, who is riding a 500 MV Agusta.
Dunlop is also entered on an MV Agusta, but he pulled into the paddock after his opening lap on the machine yesterday.
Browne, who is making his debut for the Joey’s Bar Racing Team, topped the times in the Moto3/125GP class by over three seconds from Enniskillen’s Melissa Kennedy.
Roads close this morning for the main 11-race programme at 10am, re-opening no later than 7.30pm.