Johnston on a high after thrilling win
What a sensational start to the 90th Anniversary fonaCAB International North West 200 in association with Nicholl Oils with a fantastic Tides Restaurant six-lap Supersport race that saw Lee Johnston emerge victorious after a last-lap sort out at Juniper Chicane.
As Alastair Seeley tried to out-brake the Ashcourt Yamaha with a daring inside move, he got in too hot and shot over the gravel. He looked to get things back under control, but the rear wheel caught the grass and he was thrown from the EHA Yamaha, almost taking James Hillier with him.
Seeley was uninjured, and Johnston raced on to take his fourth North West 200 win and his first in the Supersport class.
Johnston said afterwards: “That was good. Alastair is so hard to race with, you never know when he is sand bagging or not. The slip streaming was just the usual that it is here and I just stuck in there, and got all my braking points just right.
“I had the fastest bike out there, so I had to win or I would have got some stick from the team. The Ashcourt team have done an awesome job. I saw Alastair was too fast in and I was past and didn’t know he had gone down. It’s a good way to start the meeting with a win and pay the team back.”
You could feel the nervous tension before the start, and Seeley, Johnston and Hillier all led the first lap from Dean Harrison before a gap to Paul Jordan and Michael Dunlop, while Derek McGee went straight on at Magherabuoy Chicane.
From there it was a five-bike freight train as Jordan was having the race of his life.
He caught up on the quartet at the front by setting a fastest lap on his second circuit of 116.699mph, as Dunlop dropped off the pace into sixth.
At the front it was nip and tuck with incredible slip streaming moves, at times three abreast into the braking area at University with fourth-placed Hillier steaming past into the lead.
Jordan was forced to retire at Mill Road Roundabout on lap five, and the race win was in doubt right until the final chicane.
Pole man Peter Hickman made up for his Supersport retirement when he scored a comfortable win in the six-lap Superstock race from Glenn Irwin and a terrific popular podium for Dunlop.
Hickman said: “I was a bit disappointed with the Supersport when a stone holed the radiator. I just got the head down in this one. I wanted to get away early, but the boys tried to baulk me, but I knew if I could lead onto the Coast Road I could get away and that’s what happened. It’s good to get my second win here on a new Smiths BMW that I never sat on until Tuesday practice.”
Irwin and Harrison were locked in a great battle for second, until the latter lost the front end at University and crashed out unhurt.
Irwin said: “I didn’t know Dean was out until I got a board with plus seven on it. I’m happy to stand on the podium with the two top road racers in the world. It would be nice to be on the top, but I’ll settle for what I got.”
Dunlop got past Johnston at the Metropole on lap five and held off the last-lap challenge of the earlier race winner to take a very popular podium position.
Dunlop said: “This is the first time I’ve ridden this bike and I’m a bit rusty. The wrist could be better, but it’s not a problem. There’s still a bit we can do with this bike. I didn’t know I was third.”
Behind Dunlop was Hillier, who got the best of Johnston, with Richard Cooper sixth.
North West 200 Thursday results
Supersport: 1st L. Johnston avg speed 116.058mph, 2nd Dean Harrison 116.007, 3rd J. Hillier 115.943, 4th M. Dunlop 114.316, 5th J. Coward 114.217, 6th I. Hutchinson 114.155
Fastest Lap: Johnston (Lap 6) – 116.575mph
Superstock: 1st P. Hickman avg speed 121.908mph, 2nd G. Irwin 121.762, 3rd M. Dunlop 120.975, 4th J. Hillier 120.939, 5th L. Johnston 120.871, 6th R. Cooper 120.085
Supertwin: 1st S. Bonetti avg speed 109.257mph, 2nd J. Coward 109.203, 3rd M. Rutter 108.572, 4th J. Chawke 106.898, 5th H. Saiger 106.873, 6th F. Curinga 106.797
Fastest lap: Fastest Lap – Coward (Lap 3) 110.224mph
North West 200 Thursday Qualifying
Superbike: 1st G. Irwin 123.362mph, 2nd D. Harrison 123.265, 3rd A. Seeley 123.231, 4th M. Dunlop 121.932, 5th C. Cummins 121.803, 6th L. Johnston 121.479, 7th M. Rutter 121.307, 8th R. Cooper 120.921, 9th I. Hutchinson 120.444, 10thJ. Hillier 120.416
Superstock: 1st P. Hickman 122.502mph, 2nd G. Irwin 121.745, 3rd J. Hillier 121.478, 4th M. Dunlop 121.052, 5th L. Johnston 120.888, 6th D. Harrison 120.571, 7th M. Rutter 120.236, 8th I. Hutchinson 119.226, 9th G. Johnson 119.183, 10th D. Todd 118.578
Supersport: 1st L. Johnston 116.545mph, 2nd D. Harrison 116.084, 3rd J. Hillier 116.004, 4th P. Hickman 115.989, 5th D. McGee 115.767, 6th A. Seeley 115.654, 7th M. Dunlop 115.423, 8th P. Jordan 115.406, 9th D. Todd 115.112, 10th I. Hutchinson 114.901
Supertwin: 1st D. McGee 108.184mph, 2nd G. Irwin 108.136, 3rd J. Coward 108.099, 4th S. Bonetti 108.061, 5th M. Rutter 107.419, 6th H. Saiger 106.789, 7th C. Elkin 106.265, 8th J. Chawke 105.733, 9th V. Lopez 105.730, 10th C. Phillips 105.328