Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston is keeping an open mind over his plans for 2016 after a dream season at the major international road races has marked him out as one of the sport’s hottest properties.
Johnston was an ever-present on the podium at the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix, regularly outperforming his rivals in the bigger factory-supported teams on his stable of East Coast Racing/Burdens-backed BMW S1000RR and Triumph 675 machinery.
The 26-year-old’s career has been on an upward trajectory in the past few seasons and Johnston has quickly soared through the ranks since he made his roads bow at the North West 200 in 2008.
His double in the Supertwins class at the ‘Triangle’ venue last year was a taste of what was to come and Johnston raised his game to a new level to win a thrilling Superstock race in May, halting Alastair Seeley’s dominance to clinch his first international big bike success to the delight of his East Coast team boss and good friend Phil Reed.
Johnston, who also finished on the rostrum in both Supersport races at the North West, produced a stunning performance weeks later at the Isle of Man TT to finish third in the Superstock race behind Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop, three years on from his Mountain Course debut.
However, his best was still to come as the ‘General’ swept to a headline-grabbing treble at the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod in August, where Johnston won both Supersport races and maintained his red-hot form on his BMW Superstock machine with another prestigious triumph at the world’s fastest road race.
It’s no wonder then, that a number of top teams have been chasing his signature for 2016 and although Johnston has stated his desire to deliver a TT victory for his East Coast Racing team before considering other options, he did not rule out the possibility of moving to pastures new next year.
“I’d like to win a TT for my boys and it annoys me because all my mechanics have won TTs with other people but I haven’t yet, so I need to try and set that right and have a good go next year,” Johnston told the News Letter.
“I don’t know what’s happening yet and nothing is finalised for next year.
“Obviously Tyco BMW would be a good team to ride for and it wouldn’t bother me being in a team alongside a big name because the pressure would be more on them and you’d just have to try and beat your team-mate, wouldn’t you?” added Johnston, whose happy-go-lucky charm has made him a popular figure with fans and his fellow racers alike.
“There’s a lot of its, buts and maybes when it comes to thinking about whether or not you’d be better off in one of these bigger teams and if I was on a Tyco bike maybe I would do nothing with it, or maybe I’d win a TT – it’s just hard to know.
“It’s not just a matter of making a decision and away you go, there is so much else that comes into it.
“Anyone watching from the outside thinks it’s just pretty much a case of a rider doing this or that and then everything is sorted, but there is more to it than that,” he said.
“For someone like me who hasn’t really made their name yet, if I went to a big team and had one bad year it’d be bad for my career and everything I did this year would be forgotten about.”
Johnston – who won the Joey Dunlop Superbike race at Frohburg
in September – is among the entries this weekend at the Stars of Darley meeting at Darley Moor in Derbyshire along with John McGuinness, Michael Rutter, Peter Hickman and Richard Cooper.
He will also make his fourth appearance at the Suncity Group 49th Macau Grand Prix in November on the ECR/Burdens BMW Superbike.