Derek Sheils made a victorious start to the KDM Hire Cookstown 100 on Friday night as the Dublin rider edged a thrilling Invitational Supersport race on Chris Dowd’s Yamaha.
Sheils set the early pace but Mullingar rider Derek McGee was making rapid progress and had soon battled his way into second place.
The front two opened an advantage over Tyco Suzuki’s William Dunlop and his brother Michael, who were fighting it out for the final rostrum place.
McGee took the lead with two laps remaining but Sheils hit back to snatch a narrow win by 0.266 seconds.
William Dunlop clinched third place on his TAS Racing debut, with Michael next on his MD Racing 600. The top six was completed by Michael Sweeney and Jamie Hamilton on Wilson Craig’s Honda.
McGee emerged as the surprise package from practice, qualifying on pole for the Superbike and Supersport races at the 2.1-mile Orritor circuit, which hosts the first Irish national road race meeting of 2014.
A winner in the Supersport class at Walderstown last year, McGee took the top spot in the Superbike class with a time of 1m 26.169s on his Kawasaki from Skerries man Sweeney (1m 26.900s), with Sheils (1m 27.210s) completing an all-Irish front row on Chris Dowd’s Kawasaki ZX-10R.
William Dunlop heads up the second row on the GSX-R1000 Superbike in fourth place and is joined by brother Michael on his MD Racing BMW S1000RR Superstock machine, who hurt his shoulder following a crash during qualifying in the wet at Brands Hatch last weekend.
Ballyclare rider Hamilton was sixth fastest on Craig’s Superstock machine.
Circuit newcomer Dan Kneen qualified in 11th place on the Cookstown BE Racing Suzuki.
Dunlop, who was sampling the Tyco Suzuki for the first time on the roads, told the News Letter: “I didn’t get a lot of time on the big bike so it was hard to get a good feel for it. There was a lot of traffic out there as well so it was difficult to get a clear run, but the bike felt good and I’m looking forward to the race.
“I’m happy enough with fourth on the grid and I think I’ll be quick enough to run at the front tomorrow.
“The wee 600 was flying and it’s probably the fastest bike out there. I finished third in the race and the other two riders [Derek Sheils and Derek McGee] were just riding better than I was,” he added.
“We’ve a few changes to make to the bike chassis-wise but I don’t think we’re going to be far away in the 600 race either.”
McGee also led the way in Supersport qualifying, securing another pole start with a time of 1m 28.255s from Sheils (1m 28.501s) with William Dunlop completing the first row (1m 28.710s).
Sweeney, Sam Wilson and Michael Dunlop form the second row of the grid, followed by Michael Pearson, Hamilton and Seamus Elliott.
Michael Dunlop took pole for the Supertwin 650 race on Winston McAdoo’s Kawasaki from Jamie Hamilton, with James Cowton and Connor Behan on the KMR Kawasaki the top four.