Sheils throws down gauntlet in battle for Tandragee glory
Today's Open races at the 57th Around-A-Pound Tandragee 100 are set to offer some mouthwatering action.
Cookstown B.E Racing Suzuki-mounted Derek Sheils, who took pole, will take on Mar-Train Racing-mounted William Dunlop after Temple businessman Tim Martin stepped in to support the Ballymoney man with a 1000cc machine for today's season-opening national road race.
The Waterford ace's pole time was some four seconds quicker than Dunlop's effort aboard the Superstock-specification Mar-Train Racing R1M, making him and Cookstown B.E Racing big favourites for Open class honours today.
Guy Martin was back at Tandragee for the first time in over a decade, and his time away showed. Now Honda Racing-mounted, the Lincolnshire ace re-familiarised himself with the five-mile circuit in the newcomers' session, and in all honesty will not trouble the front-runners today on his SP2 Honda from 17th place on the grid, some 14 seconds down on pole man Sheils.
Mullingar's Derek McGhee wasn't far off Dunlop's pace and will no doubt give the Ballymoney man a run for second place in both Open races, with Dunlop, as expected, starting on pole in the Supersport class on his IC/Caffrey Transport Yamaha.
McGhee will again be the man to trouble Dunlop, this time in the middleweight division, as the Mullingar ace starts beside him on the front row of the grid in second place with just over a second separating them in qualifying. Michael Sweeney was third quickest, just ahead of Sheils and Paul Jordan on the B&W Site Sealants Kawasaki - the very machine that won last year's British Supersport Championship with Tarran Mackenzie in the saddle.
Jordan said: "It was a busy old day as I was just trying to find my feet on the new bike, but I enjoyed it and am now looking forward to tomorrow."
Today's eight-race programme is preceded by a parade lap that will be led off by none other than Dromara's legendary road racing icon Raymond McCullough, riding a TZ350cc Yamaha.
Double Formula 2 World champion Brian Reid and Con Law are among an entry list packed with leading lights from the halcyon days of racing.
The opening encounter on the programme is the McCrum's Motorcycles Open race over six laps, with Sheils, Dunlop and McGhee set to get things started with what is sure to be an enthralling encounter.
The Principal Insurance 201-400cc support race is next up and is followed by the opening Supersport encounter sponsored by McCullagh Property, again over six laps, with Dunlop on pole.
The Classic races are set at the midway point of the eight-race programme by the promoting North Armagh Motorcycle Club, followed by the Lightweight, Senior Support and Supertwin races - with the Around-A-Pound Tandragee 100 feature Superbike race, which is taking place over seven laps, concluding the day's action.
Roads close this morning at 10am sharp.