Sensational newcomer Richard Cooper won a pulsating J.A.S. Finlay Sunflower Trophy race at Bishopscourt in Co. Down on Saturday to complete a Superbike treble.
The British Superbike rider, making his debut at Ireland’s premier short circuit meeting, held off two-time winner Danny Buchan by only 0.015 seconds in a dash to the line after a race packed with drama.
Six-time winner Michael Laverty had snatched the lead in dramatic fashion at Ringawaddy on lap five, pushing Cooper wide as the English rider ran onto the grass. Buchan followed through on his MSS Kawasaki to move into second place, with Cooper re-joining the race in third on the Buildbase Suzuki.
Laverty tried to make a break for it on the Tyco BMW as he flashed over the line with Buchan in hot pursuit, while early leader Cooper was now 1.8 seconds behind. The leading trio had a huge gap over Dean Harrison in fourth on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki, with Scottish rider Paul McClung in fifth.
Cooper, fired up after his excursion onto the grass, was on a mission as he began to slash the deficit to Laverty and Buchan.
He had cut the gap to 0.3 seconds at the end of lap eight to haul himself back into contention. The Nottingham-based rider wasted no time in putting a move on Buchan to snatch second place on lap nine, but there was more drama to come.
Race leader Laverty encountered a slower rider and was forced to take to the grass at Fairways with two laps to go, allowing Cooper into the lead, with Buchan snapping at his heels.
On a sensational last lap around the 1.8-mile circuit, Buchan dived underneath Cooper at Ringawaddy, but the Suzuki rider rode around his outside at Dunsfort and managed to draft past his fellow BSB rival on the charge to the line in a thrilling climax.
Cooper said: “It was nice to be asked over here to Ireland to race at the event and thanks to my team, because they had a really busy schedule.
“We had no expectations really but we were feeling confident after Friday and we had a BSB win last time out. We got three wins and what a way to do it in the Sunflower – it was a photo finish with Danny and that’s what the fans came to see.
“Michael gave me a little nudge and I had to go over the grass, but the bike was working just brilliant and I just put my head down again and we managed to catch them back up.”
Laverty took the last rostrum position, 1.4 seconds down, with road racing star Harrison – also making his Bishopscourt debut – in fourth. McClung and Dan Cooper completed the top six.
Glenn Irwin was a double winner in the Supertwins class on the B.E. Racing Kawasaki. The Carrick man had intended to race the 650cc Kawasaki in the main Sunflower race, but was forced to retire at the end of the warm-up lap.
Irwin saw off Jeremy McWilliams by 0.1 seconds in race two, which was billed as the Junior Sunflower event. Former Grand Prix winner McWilliams slid out of the lead in the opening race on the KMR Kawasaki, when Dan Cooper finished as the runner-up. British Junior Supersport champion Eunan McGlinchey finished third in the Junior Sunflower race behind Irwin and McWilliams.