Lisburn’s Carl Phillips will make his debut in the MCE British Superbike Championship this year after signing for the Gearlink Kawasaki team.
The 24-year-old will step up to the elite class on the Nina ZX-10R after impressing with a series of solid results in 2017 in the National Superstock 1000 Championship.
Phillips teamed up with Isle of Man TT star Michael Dunlop last year to ride a Suzuki under the MD Racing banner and will continue to receive backing from the 15-time Mountain Course winner this season, who remains on board as a personal sponsor.
He tested the Gearlink Kawasaki at Donington Park last October and has now secured a dream ride for 2018.
The popular English team was rocked by tragedy following the death of Norma de Bidaph at the end of last year, who passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Norma ran the team with her husband Michael but Gearlink will continue in the British championship this year, with Phillips leading the line in the Superbike class and James Westmoreland competing in the Supersport championship.
In an exclusive interview, Phillips told the News Letter: “It’s a dream come true for me and I have to pinch myself sometimes, but I’m going to be realistic about what to expect this year. I’ve always wanted the chance to race in British Superbikes but I know how hard it is going to be because there is so much depth to the field.
“There is no real pressure from the team and most of that will come from myself. I just want to keep improving and try and match the pace of the other rookies and maybe score some points throughout the year.
“For me, that would be fantastic and I’ll be working as hard as I can to try and make sure that I stay in the class the following season,” he added.
“I’m already thinking about that and it’s important to try and have a good crack at it.”
Phillips, who finished as the runner-up in the Superstock 600 Championship in 2016, previously rode for the Gearlink team during a one-off appearance alongside Andrew Irwin in the Supersport races at the Sunflower Trophy meeting at Bishopscourt at the end of 2016.
“After I rode the bike at the Sunflower Trophy in 2016 I always kept my nose in the door every weekend and kept in touch with Norma and Michael [de Bidaph],” he said.
“I’m friendly with Andrew Irwin and when he had the chance to go to World Supersport, he recommended me to the team and that’s basically how it came about.
“At the final round at Brands Hatch, the rumour was going around that Andrew was heading to World Supersport and when I went and had a chat with Michael, he told me that there may be a chance of riding the Superbike this year and asked if I was interested,” added Phillips.
“Straight after the Sunflower I flew over to England and rode the bike at Donington, so I’ve already had a taste of what it’s like.
“I did about 16 laps and I wasn’t too far off what I did on the Superstock bike straight out of the blocks. I think the Superbike will suit me a lot better and the electronics seem to be the key difference.”
Phillips will test the Kawasaki at Brands Hatch on February 17 before taking part in the Pro Test at Cartagena in Spain.
“We’re going testing in at Brands Hatch on February 17 and then we’ll be heading to the Pro Test from March 3-5, so I’ll have three solid days there,” he said.
“Michael [Dunlop] is back on board again this year and he’s a sponsor of mine, so I’ll be supported by MD Racing. Sandy McCutcheon is also involved with me again so everything has come together well.
“I’m so grateful to Norma and Michael de Bidaph for giving me this opportunity and I was really sad to hear about Norma’s passing at the end of last year. It’s a fitting tribute to her memory that the team will continue this season.”