Mawhinney, who is still not at peak fitness after he was seriously injured in a crash on his debut at the North West 200 in May, impressed during qualifying at Bishopscourt, where British Superbike star Glenn Irwin produced a sensational 100mph lap to clinch pole on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati.
Carrick man Irwin was inside Essex rider and double Sunflower Trophy winner Danny Buchan’s lap record, as the 26-year-old blazed a trail around the Co Down circuit. Irwin lapped in 1m 05.217s (100.685mph) to head fellow BSB contender Christian Iddon (Tyco BMW) by almost eight tenths, who was also on lap record pace on his debut at Bishopscourt.
Buchan, who is bidding for a third straight win in today’s premier Sunflower race, was third fastest on the MSS Kawasaki, 1.1 seconds behind Irwin.
Former Irish Superbike champion Mawhinney was the leading domestic rider in fourth on his Team Polaris Kawasaki, lapping in 1m 07.415 seconds.
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Mawhinney is under no illusions that he faces a near impossible task of upsetting the headline trio, but he feels he has a chance to mix it at the front at the start of the Superbike races if he can capitalise on his first row start.
“It’s so hard against those boys because they are on factory bikes with the best of stuff and we’re running our own wee Kawasaki, which cost about £12,000,” Mawhinney said.
“The top three did their best laps on special qualifying tyres whereas I did my time basically using my race set-up, so hopefully we can be a bit closer.
“I need to get away with them at the beginning and try and hang on. I’m still lacking a bit of bike fitness too, so that’s not helping,” Mawhinney added.
“It was nice to be the leading Irish Superbike man today and if we can finish in the top six tomorrow in this field then we’ll be delighted.
“I had a podium last year and maybe a couple of fourths from memory, so we’ll hang a leg out again and see where we end up. I know I have the talent to run with these boys but it’s impossible when you’re up against that kind of machinery,” he added.
“I just want to try and end the season with some good results and then hopefully we can get something sorted to race in England next year.”
Behind the top four qualifiers in the Superbike class, a trio of Gearlink Kawasaki riders were next with James East on the ZX-10R Superbike followed by Andrew Irwin, who was the quickest Supersport rider, and Lisburn’s Carl Philips in seventh.
Irish championship regulars Nikki Coates (KP Kawasaki), Robert English (IFS Yamaha) and Cody Nally (Kawasaki) completed the top ten.
EHA Racing duo David Allingham and Ross Twyman were 11th and 12th respectively on their British championship Yamaha Supersport machines, with David Haire in 13th on his own Yamaha R6.
Andrew Irwin topped the Supersport qualifying times by six tenths from Jason Lynn (Walter Bell Suzuki), with Robert Kennedy (Yamaha), Eglinton’s Allingham, Phillips and Luke Johnston from Ahoghill the first six.
Morning warm-up commences at 9am followed by a 14-race programme, with the feature Sunflower Trophy race (12 laps) due after the lunch break.