Wilson Craig Racing looking ahead to 2022 with big hopes for Joey Thompson

Wilson Craig Racing team owner Darren Gilpin is looking ahead to a fuller calendar in 2022 after an encouraging first season at the helm of one of Northern Ireland’s best-known road racing outfits.

Monday, 15th November 2021, 6:00 am

The former Honda Racing crew chief took over the team with the full support of Wilson Craig’s family after he passed away in September 2019.

A prominent race team owner, Wilson – a devoted Honda man – worked with many of the sport’s top names, including Guy Martin, William Dunlop, Cameron Donald, Keith Amor, Jamie Hamilton, Derek McGee and David Johnson after establishing Wilson Craig Racing in 2008.

With last season effectively wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, 2021 represented the first meaningful campaign for the team under Ballyclare man Gilpin’s tutelage.

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Former Honda Racing crew chief Darren Gilpin with David Johnson in 2019.

Former MotoGP rider Chris Burns was signed up at the end of 2020 while North West 200 winner Davey Todd made selected appearances this season.

The former Honda Racing rider finished as the runner-up in the Bob Smith Spring Cup at Scarborough in May on the team’s Honda Supersport machine behind Dean Harrison, while Todd also claimed the runner-up spot in the ‘Race of Legends’ at Armoy behind Michael Dunlop, putting in an eye-catching performance on the ageing WCR Honda Fireblade in the summer.

Todd and Newcastle man Burns were joined by Yorkshire’s Joey Thompson for the two-day Aberdare Park meeting in South Wales in August, where the trio were in winning form.

In a fitting end to the season, Thompson and Dunlop Masters Superbike contender Emmet O’Grady sealed points-scoring finishes in the British Supersport races at the final round of the championship last month at Brands Hatch in Kent.

English prospect Thompson has now agreed terms to ride a Honda CBR600RR for the Ulster team in 2022 at the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix, plus the Scarborough meetings, Aberdare Park, and the Ulster short circuit championship.

Reflecting on an impressive season, Gilpin told the News Letter: “Yes, we had a good year and it started with Davey finishing second in the big race at the Spring Cup at Scarborough. I think Dean’s (Harrison) track knowledge was the difference and plus his bike was just a little bit quicker on the day as well.

“Davey had only been there once before in 2016 I think, so it was a fair result on Davey’s part.

“We also had a great run at Aberdare Park, where Davey won the Welsh Open Championship. Joey and Chris were there as well and all three of them were on the podium together twice at that event, which had never been done before, and both Chris and Joey won a race as well.

“In all this year we had something like 15 wins and 30 podiums over the course of the season, which I was very pleased with in what was really our first full year,” he added.

“Davey also had a good run at Armoy and finished second in the feature race after we brought the old Superbike out for a run.

“Michael Dunlop actually came over to Davey and said there was nobody who could ride the back road the way Davey rides it; Michael didn’t need to come over and say that, so fair play to him,” he added.

“It was difficult because it was our first proper season since Wilson passed away, and we obviously only got two races done in 2020. This year was also disrupted because we had no internationals, so it was tough to get everything going.

“But I think we managed quite well overall with what we did do and the riders put on a fantastic show for us.”

The team’s main focus will centred around Thompson next year, with the 23-year-old eager to build on the potential he showed in 2017 – when he won the Dundrod 150 National race at the Ulster Grand Prix – and 2018, when Thompson twice finished on the podium in the NW200 Supertwin races and sealed a career-best fifth place at the TT in the Lightweight event.

He took a break from the sport in 2019 after struggling to secure a competitive deal, but Thompson landed a ride in the British Superbike Championship this year on a BMW S1000RR with NP Motorcycles, in addition to his one-off rides on the Wilson Craig Honda .

Gilpin said: “Joey raced for us at Aberdare and afterwards he came in and said the bike was the best 600 that he’d ever ridden.

“He was keento ride for us in 2022 and we’ve now got Joey on board for next year. The plan is to do Scarborough, the North West 200, TT, Aberdare and the Ulster Grand Prix. The only national road races we’ve planned at the moment are the Tandragee 100 and Armoy because everything is determined by budget, which we have to manage as best we can.

“Wilson was a big supporter of Tandragee and I always enjoyed the event - it’s very well run, as is Armoy, so those are the two that we’ve picked next year. We’ll also do the Ulster short circuit championship, although we’ll miss one or two of the rounds that clash with the likes of the TT for example.”

The TT, which is set to return next year following back-to-back cancellations due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, will be the team’s main priority and Gilpin believes Thompson has the potential for a big future at the event.

“I always look forward to the TT and the last time I was there I was David Johnson’s crew chief at Honda, and we had a good year,” he said.

“We had plans in place for the following year, but then that all fell by the wayside because of the pandemic, and then Wilson sadly passed away, which changed things again personally for me from my perspective when I took over the team.

“But we’re looking forward to the challenge of the TT next year and I think we’ve done the right thing with Joey, who has won races at the Southern 100, finished on the podium at the North West and finished fourth at the TT. He’s very professional as a rider with how he approaches things and he takes the job very seriously.

“He’s still young but I think he has great potential, and he fits the environment of the team – I think he can do a job,” Gilpin added.

“We are starting to build new bikes for next season and organise a few bits and pieces, so we’re busy. People talk about the off-season but there is no off-season, for me anyway!

“But we’re all looking forward to next year.”