Irish road racing Superbike champion Derek Sheils has set his sights on clinching his best ever result at next week’s Suncity Group 53rd Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Sheils made his debut at the event in southern China in 2016, finishing ninth at the 3.8-mile Guia street course.
The Dubliner had a DNF in 2017 but returned last year on the Penz13 BMW and finished in eighth position ahead of top newcomer Davey Todd, who was also riding a Penz S1000RR.
Sheils will race the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing Suzuki at Macau, which will be the only GSX-R1000 on the grid.
The Republic of Ireland rider is making his fourth appearance at the event and Sheils now feels a top-six finish or better is within his grasp.
He hasn’t raced since the Ulster Grand Prix in August, but the 37-year-old doesn’t believe it will be too much of a negative factor - providing the Dungannon team finds a solid base set-up before the final qualifying session.
“I’d like to be running in the top five or six, but it’s a case of finding a set-up that we’re comfortable with and then progressing with it,” Sheils said.
“If we can get the bike handling well early doors, I can’t see any reason why we can’t be that far up.
“I haven’t raced since the Ulster Grand Prix but been riding motocross and stuff, so hopefully it won’t affect things too much.
“I enjoy the track and everything has to be totally pinpointed; you’ve got to get your braking right and hit all your apexes, so you really need to be accurate to get a good lap time, which suits me a little bit,” he added.
“There’s an interesting line-up this year with ‘Hutchy’ coming back and ‘Davo’ Johnson riding the Ducatis, and obviously you’ve got (Peter) Hickman and (Michael) Rutter, but I think we can have a go at the top five or six.”
In addition to Sheils, the Republic of Ireland is also represented by Michael Sweeney (MJR BMW), Brian McCormack (ON-1 Racing BMW) and Steve Heneghan (Reactive Parts Ducati V4S).
Peter Hickman, who won the race last year for the third time, goes into the event as the rider to beat on the MGM by Bathams BMW.
Record eight-time winner Michael Rutter, who finished a close second in 2018, lines up on the exotic Honda RC213V-S, which he rode at Macau for the first time last November.
Rutter’s last victory came in 2012 but the experienced English rider can never be discounted at a course where he has won more times than any other rider.
Yorkshire’s Ian Hutchinson is a fascinating entry on the Team Milwaukee by SMT Racing BMW. Hutchinson won the race for the first time in 2013 on a Milwaukee Yamaha after a long injury lay-off. He last raced at Macau in 2016, finishing eighth.
John McGuinness and Aussie David Johnson will lead the charge for Paul Bird’s team on Ducati V4-R machinery, while Northern Ireland’s Lee Johnston is joined by Lincolnshire’s Gary Johnson in the Ashcourt Racing colours, both riding BMW S1000RRs.
Rising star Davey Todd returns on the Penz BMW while Paul Jordan from Magherafelt makes his second visit to Macau on the Dafabet Devitt Kawasaki.
However, Martin Jessopp and Danny Webb – who finished third and fourth respectively last year – will not be on the grid this time.
Saintfield’s Davy Morgan (DM71 BMW) will also continue his association with the invitation-only race.
Practice and qualifying takes place next Thursday and Friday (November 14-15), with the 12-lap race next Saturday scheduled for 07:55 GMT.