Rivals Sheils and McGee to battle for Armoy glory
The Bayview Hotel Armoy Road Races burst into action today when practice begins around the three-mile circuit, set in the quiet Co Antrim village steeped in road racing history and made famous by the exploits of the Armoy Armada of Frank Kennedy, Joey Dunlop, Mervyn Robinson and Jim Dunlop in the 1970s.
The whole event has a retro feel to it this year with the club remembering the passing of Kennedy 40 years ago, after sustaining fatal injuries during the 1979 North West 200.
Frank's brother Bill is clerk of the course for the race meeting and puts his name to tomorrow's Senior Classic.
He said: "The multi-cylinder machines are what endeared Frank to motorcycle road racing and I thought it appropriate to bring them to his home village of Armoy."
The leading competitors this weekend are the two Dereks, Sheils and McGee, who have been in tremendous form in the events leading up to Armoy.
Sheils, on the John Burrows RK Racing Suzuki, has won the last seven Superbike races on the trot, while McGee claimed four pole positions, two wins and two second places at the Faugheen meeting less than a week ago.
Chasing them hard should be Michael Sweeney, Forrest Dunn, Thomas Maxwell, Kevin Fitzpatrick, James Chawke, Paul Jordan - if fully recovered from a hand injury - Dominic Herbertson and newcomers Michael Browne and Sam West.
Michael Dunlop's name appears in the programme and he had a run out at Aghadowey yesterday to determine his progress from pelvic injuries sustained in his Southern 100 crash, but that was arguably with a view to the Ulster Grand Prix next month with the bumps and jumps at Armoy possibly a step too soon.
One young man to watch out for is 21-year-old Sam Grief riding the Paul Robinson PR#18 Honda NSF Moto3 machine.
Grief, from Derby, was the quickest qualifier for last year's Newcomers 'B' Manx Grand Prix race only to retire with technical gremlins inside the top five.
Armoy club member Peter Louden put Sam and Paul in touch with each other, hence his appearance in all the Irish national road races to date this year. He has been competitive into the bargain, missing out on a potential first win at Skerries with machine problems.
Another Armoy connection is that when the former ACU 50cc champion was asked who his racing hero was, he replied: "It has to be Joey Dunlop. He was the complete road racing legend who mostly worked on his own bikes, which you don't see a lot of nowadays."
Continuing the theme of nostalgia, the Armoy race programme (left) is a collector's dream. The cover is based on an old Armoy Armada magazine front cover with Frank Kennedy astride the 500cc Mervyn Turtle Suzuki.
Inside, as well as the runners and riders in the races and some modern features, the bulk of it contains clippings from the 1970s about Frank and the Armoy Armada, just as they appeared in the newspapers of the day.
It is without doubt a fantastic programme, and being priced at just £15 means it is well worth purchasing.
Roads close this afternoon at 12.30pm ahead of 11 practice sessions followed by two races for Senior Support and Supersport machines.
Tomorrow morning roads close at 10am followed by a scheduled 10-race programme, culminating in the Bayview Hotel Race of Legends.