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Johnston's on fire and ready to push North West big guns all way

 

By Roy Harris

New Honda Racing recruit Lee Johnston has only one thing on his mind as he prepares for next month's Vauxhall International North West 200 - and that is winning races.

The 29-year-old Yorkshire-based Maguiresbridge rider is a three-time winner on the North Coast and won't be happy with anything less than more victories to add to his CV.

The diminutive Johnston has swapped machinery from the East Coast BMW team to the might of Honda power riding a CBR 1000RR Fireblade in the Superbike and Superstock races and a Padgetts Honda in the two Supersport races.

The North West - from May 13 to 19 - will be his first competitive outing with his new team after pre-season tests were hampered by bad weather.

"By now we should have had six days of testing behind us, but rain has wiped out four of those," he explained.

The Honda squad have tested in Spain and have only a final test session at Castle Coombe to complete ahead of the Triangle event, while many of Johnston's rivals will have three British Championship meetings under their belts before North West practice begins, although he doesn't see his lack of set-up time on the Honda as a problem.

"I don't see it as a major disadvantage. I usually have at least one BSB outing before the North West, but there is no similarity between road racing and a cold and wet Donington or Brands Hatch," he added.

Johnston missed last year's TT following a practice crash at Greeba Castle, but is now fully recovered and points out he has maintained his bike fitness by racing in New Zealand and Australia during the winter months.

"I was out there racing while everyone else was eating their Christmas dinner," he joked. "I rode a Suzuki in the New Zealand Superbike series and Classic Yamahas in Australia during the Phillip Island Classic meeting."

Having made his North West debut in 2008, it was in 2014 that he won both Supertwin races before winning the second Superstock race 12 months later.

Johnston rode a Jackson Racing Honda to third behind the BMWs of Alastair Seeley and Michael Rutter, but ahead of Glenn Irwin and Peter Hickman in the opening Superbike race a year ago, before returning to the East Coast BMW squad for the rest of the road racing season.

Can he repeat that podium feat? "I don't see why not," he says. "The bike is new to me, but I've taken well to the Fireblade. Usually I do a lot of tinkering, but I've got on with the new Superbike spec Honda straight away and really enjoy riding it."

Johnston remains convinced he will be able to mix it with Seeley and Irwin at the front of the NW200 Superbike pack.

"I didn't do any more testing on the BMW in 2015 than I have this year with the Honda, which was the last time I got some good results and wasn't injured or sore. I feel fit and healthy with no niggles - feeling positive is half the battle," he concluded.

Meanwhile, the North Armagh Off Road Section promote the opening round of the 2018 Cromwell Trucks British Quadcross and the Maxxis British Sidecarcross Championships at Desertmartin on Saturday.

The cream of three and four-wheel racing will descend on Porters Sandpit for what is sure to be a spectacular, action-packed day's entertainment with an international flavour in Dutch Sidecarcross duo Jarno van den Boomen and Kenny van Gaalens, a top 10 world championship crew.

The Quadcross entry is headed by English rider Ollie Sampson on his Yamaha, but he will have considerable local opposition from 2016 British champion and last year's runner-up Mark McLernon on his Walsh Honda, Ulster champion Michael McAneney and his Laeger Honda and veteran Justin Reid, a multi British and Ulster champion looking to put his new Husqvarna engine machine on the top step of the podium.

Others to look out for include David Cowan, Leon Rodgers from Navan on his unique WSP Kawasaki and, in the Rookie and U-21 category, young Moira star Sean Dillon on his Walsh Honda.

The only female driver is Emma Moulds who, with new passenger Alan Gardner, will be looking to put local knowledge to the test against some of the best.

Racing gets under way at 11am on Saturday with the Desertmartin track signposted off the main Desertmartin to Maghera Road with the entrance fee only £5.

Belfast Telegraph

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