Michael Dunlop hot favourite for season-opener at Cookstown 100

Michael Dunlop on the Buildbase BMW S1000RR at Brands Hatch
Michael Dunlop on the Buildbase BMW S1000RR at Brands Hatch
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The 2014 Irish national road racing season roars into life this weekend with the KDM Hire Cookstown 100.

An impressive entry is headed by seven-time Isle of Man TT winner Michael Dunlop, who will make his much vaunted debut on the MD Racing BMW S1000RR HP4 Superstock machine.

The Ballymoney lad finished 24th on his first appearance at Brands Hatch in race one at the opening round of the MCE British Superbike Championship on Easter Monday.

Dunlop and was second quickest in the wet behind his Buildbase BMW team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari in the first qualifying session and eventually started from 12th place on the grid after hurting his shoulder in a heavy spill.

He toughed it out to complete the opener, but retired after a few laps in race two, saying: “We had a good time in qualifying and the bike is going great. I was up in second place in Q1, but I came off and injured my shoulder. It’s a bit of a shame not to do too much in the races, but no matter, we’ll be ready for the next event now.”

The 25-year-old will also ride his MD Racing Supersport machine at Cookstown and will be bidding to give sponsor Winston McAdoo a victory at his home race in the Supertwin class on the McAdoo Kawasaki ER6.

Last year, Dunlop won the Open and feature Cookstown 100 races and finished a close second to Guy Martin in the Supersport event.

Tyco Suzuki star Martin has skipped the meeting this year to compete at the Bol d’Or 24-Hour race at Magny-Cours in France instead this weekend, but new TAS Racing signing William Dunlop will hope to take the fight to his younger brother as the Moneymore outfit’s sole representative.

William will ride the Tyco Suzuki GSX-R1000 Superbike and GSX-R600 Supersport machines as he makes his roads debut for the team at the Orritor circuit.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how the bikes perform on the roads,” said the 28-year-old. “I’ve had a couple of good tests on the circuits but it’s all about the roads for me and hopefully it will stay dry and we can get some decent results.”

The line-up also includes Derek Sheils on Chris Dowd’s Kawasaki ZX-10R Superbike and Yamaha R6, plus Michael Pearson on the Northern Escalators Installations Kawasaki ZX-10R.

Ballyclare’s Jamie Hamilton will also make his road racing bow for Wilson Craig Racing and will ride a Superstock Honda plus a CBR6000RR Supersport machine. Hamilton is also entered on a Kawasaki Supertwin prepared by Robbie Silvester.

Manx rider Dan Kneen is a top-rated newcomer on John Burrows’ Cookstown/BE Racing machines, while Shaun Anderson on the CN Racing Suzuki will be aiming for some solid results at the opening road race meeting of the season.

Roads close today for practice at 12 noon and tomorrow from 10am for a scheduled 19-race programme.

Official programmes cost £10 and are an essential revenue stream for the organising Cookstown & District Club. Official car parks (£5 entry) are clearly marked around the circuit.