In near perfect racing conditions, Lee Johnston won a thrilling Supersport 1 race on the opening Thursday evening of the 90th International North West 200. It was the Northern Irish road racer's first International win since 2015 and he now joins such highly esteemed company as the late Jimmy Guthrie, Bob McIntyre, David Jeffries and William Dunlop on four NW200 wins.
From Maguiresbridge in Fermanagh, Lee's one of an elite group of highly talented road racers who've broken onto the scene over recent years and made a major impact on the sport. "General" Lee has a loyal band of fans who appreciate his abilities as a top road racer and also warm to his big personality and sharp sense of humour. He's been a key part of our posse of sponsored riders since 2016 so this is our fourth year working with him. He's a special character and a perfect fit with how we roll at Red Torpedo.
Lee Johnston getting the power down on the Ashcourt Racing Yamaha YZR-R6
In Thursday evening's opening Supersport race Lee kick started his 2019 roads season in dramatic and thrilling style. The race inevitably went right down to the wire with the lead changing umpteen times. The high speed slipstreaming action is one of the unique features of the 8.9 mile triangular NW200 circuit with riders able to make up as many as six or seven places along the super fast straights linking the coastal towns of Portstewart and Portrush with Coleraine.
Five riders broke away early on and continued to jockey for position: Lee (Ashcourt Racing) and Alastair Seeley (EHA Racing) both on Yamaha R6s and Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Racing) and James Hillier (Quatro Plant) on Kawasaki ZX6Rs. Paul Jordan was lying in 5th place but pulled in on lap five with a mechanical problem. Going into the final lap, Johnston was leading - closely followed by Seeley, Harrison and Hillier. There was little in it and given the 'slingshotting' that lay ahead on the final two main straights there was still everything to play for.
Lee leads Alastair Seeley (2nd), Dean Harrison (3rd) and James Hillier (4th)
With twenty-four wins to his name, it was NW200 specialist, Alastair Seeley, who led at Ballysally roundabout but by the time they reached the Metrapole, Lee was back in the lead. As with so many of the North West 200's nail biting finishes, it was obvious that the race would depend on the run along the coast road and the last ditch passing attempts on the approach to the Juniper Hill Chicane. Who would be latest and bravest on the brakes?
On the run in to Juniper's, Lee was still in front but Ally Seeley was carrying more speed and drew alongside, then passed Lee under hard braking. But whilst Johnston hit his usual braking marker and slowed to negotiate the left hand entry into the chicane, Seeley was carrying too much speed and ran wide over the rumble strips on the the right hand side. Unable to then make the right turn of the chicane, he crossed the track onto the grass resulting in the bike's rear tyre breaking traction. The bike came round on him and he was high sided onto the grass. He hit the ground hard but fortunately, was up quickly. Lee, Harrison and Hillier all made it through before Seeley's bike spun off the grass and came to rest in the middle of the road. Lee crossed the line 0.7 seconds ahead of his mate Dean Harrison with James Hillier 0.9 seconds behind Harrison.
Lee tips the Ashcourt Racing R6 into a right hander
Speaking to Stephen Watson of BBC Northern Ireland immediately after the race Lee said,
"You know what, I've had a bad few years and I feel so good to be back with a team of people that believe in me and build good bikes and I just feel proper comfortable and my riding's just showing that again. So, yeh - chuffed to bits."
Lee has had a difficult past few years. He was injured in practice for the TT at Greeba in 2017 and missed the TT that year. The Supersport win's a tremendous start to his season. It's a massive confidence booster and he's clearly in a good place just now. He's injury free, is enjoying family life and is now back to running his own team set-up with Ashcourt Racing.
The new Ashcourt Racing livery looking resplendent at the NW200
He's been racing in the British Supersport Championship and after two rounds (Silverstone and Oulton Park) is currently lying in fifth place. The cut and thrust of the Championship has sharpened him up for the start of the roads season and he looks to be in top form. In Ashcourt Racing, he's put together a great team of people and he's clearly enjoying the more relaxed environment and 'hands on' approach away from the restrictions imposed by a full factory set-up. The bikes look mint and in the R6, he has arguably the strongest and best Supersport machine on the grid. His R6 was clocked through the speed trap on the approach to University at 174.9 mph. The team is also running BMW S1000RR Superbike and Superstock machines and given that he qualified in 4th place in Superbikes (first qualifying session), he's obviously comfortable with the way that's running.
Next up is the Isle of Man TT and Lee will race in all six solo bike races: the two Superbike races (Saturday Superbike TT and the Senior TT), the two Supersport TT races, Monday's Superstock TT and the Wednesday Lightweight TT - riding a Ryan Farquhar built KMR Kawasaki 650.
For a full practice and race schedule of 2019 Isle of Man TT click this link.
Check out Red Torpedo's range of Lee Johnston gear here.
📷 Diego Mola (All bike racing photography)