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Lee Johnston Eyes Big Bike Success At 2023 fonaCab And Nicholl Oils North West 200

north west 200 Apr 28, 2023
North West 200 2023

Lee Johnston is viewed by many race fans as a Supersport specialist. The English-based Fermanagh man has notched up road race victories on middleweight machinery at the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix and he currently sits at the top of the 2023 British Supersport championship after claiming two wins on his Ashcourt Racing Yamaha R6 in the opening round at Silverstone.

Twelve months ago the Maguiresbridge man claimed his fifth victory at the fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 after edging out Davey Todd in a thrilling Tides Restaurant Supersport race. Despite that impressive record on 600cc machinery, Johnston says his focus will be on making a mark in the bigger bikes at this year’s event.

Over the winter months the 34 year old switched from BMW to Honda power after acquiring the Superbike and Superstock-spec Fireblades that Glenn Irwin rode in the Honda Racing squad last season. Johnston is confident he now has the kit that will allow him to repeat his 2015 success in the Superstock class around the 8.9 mile Triangle course.

“I would really like to win another big bike race at the North West 200.” he smiles.

“Everyone says I am too small to do it but I know I can.”

Johnston says he has been concentrating on the new Hondas during winter testing.

“I didn’t actually sit on my 600 Yamaha from Brands Hatch last season until the first round at Silverstone this year.” he explained.

“During Spanish testing I rode the Superbike and Stocker and although I am still focussed on the 600 I want to do more in the big bike races at the NW200 this year.”

Despite his success in the British championship, Johnston says winning races at the major road race events remains his principal focus.

“The North West 200 was the first big bike race I ever went to when I was kid.” he explained.

“It means a lot to me and I think that shows in how hard I try to win races there.”

Johnston knows it will not be easy to come out on top of 2023’s strongest road racing grid.

“In my head this year’s line-up is the most competitive it has ever been.” he says.

“When I was growing up it always seemed like English racers like Michael Rutter would rock up at the North West on factory bikes and smoke everyone else. That really pissed me off because I wanted Richard Britton to win!”

The Fermanagh man says things are very different now.

“There are still some teams with big budgets like PBM and FHO but there is a much bigger spread of top machinery nowadays and the competition is fierce. It freaks me out when I think about how many good riders will be on the North West grid on good bikes this year. It will be bloody hard work to win.”

Despite the strength of the opposition, Johnston is confident he is ready for the wheel to wheel battles the North West produces following the fairing bashing Supersport encounters at Silverstone.

“Racing in the British championship is ding dong stuff, on the limit racing.” he smiles.

“You give respect as long as you get it back and it is the same at the North West. But you have to stay level-headed.”

Johnston knows he will have to be at the top of his game during North West 200 race week if he is to be in the mix for race wins. The diminutive Fermanagh rider says he feels much stronger after shaking off the worst effects of the rare blood disorder that sapped his strength and left him feeling tired and sore in recent seasons.

“It hasn’t gone away but I am in a good place at the moment.” he said.

“I’ve carried out loads of experiments with food and medication. At the moment I am just trying to take it day by day, week by week. But it is only now, when I feel better and back to my old self, that I realise how bad I was before.”    

Alongside his Supersport and big bike outings at Portrush, Johnston will also campaign a Supertwin-spec Aprilia.

The winner of both NW200 Twins races in 2014, the Ashcourt Racing rider admits the Italian machines could suffer from a lack grunt along the North West’s long straights against the Patons and Kawasakis.

With Supertwin and Supersport wins already under his belt, Johnston’s focus will be on bigger prizes after watching Glenn Irwin celebrate last year’s NW200 Superbike victories in front of an adoring crowd.

“It is special to see a home rider win a Superbike race at the North West 200.” Johnston says.

“It is good to put on a show for the fans, to see all those great photographs afterwards. Glenn and I are very different people but if I win a Superbike race at the North West 200 I’ll definitely do a burn-out- even if my feet don’t touch the ground!”

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