NW200: Lee Johnston could prove thorn in side of Seeley’s record bid

Lee Johnston on the ECC/Burdens Triumph
Lee Johnston on the ECC/Burdens Triumph

Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston could prove the fly in the ointment as Alastair Seeley zeroes in on Robert Dunlop’s all-time record at the Vauxhall International North West 200 on Saturday.

Johnston forged his way through to clinch the final rostrum place in Thursday evening’s Supersport event after languishing in seventh place at the start of the race on his Triumph and was leading the Superstock race when it was red-flagged on his BMW S1000RR.

The Maguiresbridge man, who lives in Hull, has developed into a major contender around the 8.9-mile coastal circuit, where Johnston celebrated his maiden victories with a double in the Supertwins class in 2014.

He has dropped the 650cc machine from his schedule at the North West this year to focus on the bigger capacity classes and Johnston is quietly optimistic he can give 13-times winner Seeley a run for his money in Saturday’s packed programme, which includes an extra Superstock race after the organisers ran out of time to hold the event on Thursday evening following Hungarian rider Sandor Bitter’s accident at the Ballysally roundabout.

Johnston said: “I felt really comfortable on the BMW and I knew Michael Dunlop was coming to join us at the front [in the Superstock race].

“My plan was to try and break Seeley and get away on my own as I think we were that bit stronger. Unfortunately the red flags came out, which was frustrating, but rider safety is important and I hope those who crashed are safe and well.

“It looks like the race will be moved to the start of the programme on Saturday, which is great. If we are doing four races, we might as well do five. I’m looking forward to it,” he added.

Johnston was dogged by issues with his Triumph during qualifying and only completed his first dry laps in anger in the opening race.

However, he powered through to overcome Kiwi Bruce Anstey and secure third place nonetheless.

“If I’m honest I don’t think I’d have been third only for those two boys blowing up [referring to Glenn Irwin and William Dunlop] but you take it when it’s there,” he said.

“We’ve had our fair share of annoying little problems but a podium result is still a decent start for us.”

Hungary rider Bitter escaped serious injury in the crash on Thursday.

Roads will be closed on Saturday from 9.30am-7pm for a revamped six-race programme.