Eazi Grip

Our supported riders on the North West 200

Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes target Superbike success with FHO Racing BMW

Peter Hickman, the outright lap record holder at the fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200, and his new FHO BMW Racing team-mate, Josh Brookes visited the north coast circuit today ahead of May 7-13 race week.

Hickman, who was already the fastest rider around the Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix circuits, set the new North West mark of 124.7999mph on the FHO M1000RR machine during last year’s Anchor Bar Superbike race to complete a full set of record speeds at all three of the premier international road races.

“It is nice to have the full set.” Hickman smiled after a sighting lap of the 8.9 mile Triangle course with Brookes.

“And it came during a meeting when things weren’t going to plan for me at all. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong last year!”

The 35 year old had been at the front of the opening Superbike race pack on the first lap when he hit neutral on the approach to University corner and ran straight on. After setting the new record lap he worked his way back up to sixth place and was just about to pass Josh Brookes when his rear Dunlop tyre delaminated along the high speed run to University.

“I was doing 197mph when the tyre let go.” he recalled.

Dunlop suffered problems with some of their tyres at last year’s North West, eventually forcing the withdrawal of all the riders who were running theirrubber from the final Superbike event.

“At the time I didn’t know anything about the problems Dunlop were experiencing with their tyres and that other riders had suffered the same thing.” Hickman explained.

“There was just this massive vibration.” he said, dismissing the incident as typical of his luck at the north coast event where he is still chasing his first Superbike race win despite claiming Superstock wins in 2018 and 2019.

“Every time I am in a position to win it seems that something goes wrong.” he smiled ruefully.

“One year I even had a stone go through a hose which just doesn’t happen.”

The world’s fastest road racer, who made his NW200 debut in 2014, intends to put that right in 2023.

“I want to win a superbike race here.” he said.

“I’ve come here so long now and never done it. I’ve got to pull the finger out and do it. We have the pace to win, we just need to get all the stars to align and then maybe I can beat the home hero, Glenn Irwin!”

Alongside his outings in the Superbike and Superstock races on the FHO Racing BMWs this year, Hickman will also line up on a Trooper Beer 675cc Triumph in the Supersport events and a R7 Yamaha in his own Peter Hickman Racing livery in the Supertwins races. Last year’s Twins race winner, Pierre Yves Bian, will partner the Burton on Trent racer aboard a Paton in the PHR squad.

Hickman will also face the challenge of BSB teammate, Josh Brookes, in the Superbike and Superstock events at Portrush. The Australian has also been a former NW200 outright lap record holder after setting a new mark in just his second appearance at the event in 2014 aboard a Milwaukee liveried Yamaha.

“I was dicing with Michael Dunlop in the last superbike race when I ran on to the grass at Mather’s chicane.” the former double BSB champion recalled.

“I set the new lap record as I was chasing Michael back.”

That was the Bringelly rider’s last outing at the north coast races until last season when he returned on a PBM Ducati Panigale, finishing on the podium in the feature Merrow Hotel Superbike race.

“I was thinking that there might be some changes to the course but as soon as I got back out again I felt as if I’d never left.” the 39 year old said.

“It was a pleasant surprise.”

Brookes will also ride a superstock spec M1000RR BMW this year alongside his superbike outings as he adjusts to the German machine he last raced in the World Superbike series during 2016.

“I’ve been riding and racing over the winter in Australia, so I’ve had some time to adapt to the BMW.” the 2015 and 2020 British Superbike champion explained.

“The bike has a new engine this year which has very different characteristics.”

Brookes is confident he can give teammate Hickman, who has much more experience on the M1000RR, a run for his money at Portrush.

“It isn’t a case of wait and see how it goes.” Brookes said.

“I know that I can race competitively alongside Peter at the North West. The target has to be to win races. I was on the podium last year, Peter set a new outright lap record on the BMW and the bike is even better now so I don’t think that is unrealistic.”

Russell Racing’s Dean Harrison and Richard Cooper join forces for supersport glory

The Northern Ireland based squad is run by Glenavy’s Alister Russell and backed by the Portadown-based engineering company.

“I rode the BPE Yamaha for the first time at the final round of the British championship at Brands Hatch, finishing second and third.” Cooper explained.

“Then I had two wins on the R6 at the Sunflower meeting and I knew the bike was the business. At Brands I was running at the front with Lee Johnston who is winning TTs and North West 200 races so I think I now have the package to do the same at the North West.”

Both Cooper, who became the NW200’s fastest newcomer in 2019, and Harrison were podium finishers at last year’s North West with Harrison finishing second in the CP Hire Superstock race and Cooper claiming third in both the Turkington Superstock and Anchor Bar Superbike races before securing a brilliant runner-up finish in the feature Merrow Hotel Superbike event.

“I had a great week at the North West 200 last year, probably the best week of my racing life and the event is at the top of my calendar now.” Cooper said.

“Last year was only my third time there but I like the challenge of riding a series of different bikes in the wet and the dry.

The Nottingham man doesn’t compete at the Isle of Man TT but Harrison will ride the BPE Yamaha at both the NW200 and the TT.

The Bradford rider finished on the podium of both Supersport TTs last season and was given the go ahead to find a new 600cc machine for 2023 after the DAO Racing Kawasaki squad he has ridden for in recent seasons pulled out of the Supersport class this year.

“I rode the BPE Yamaha during a test at Cartagena in Spain and did my fastest ever 600c time around there on it.” Harrison explained.

“The R6 doesn’t move about as much as the Kawasaki and on paper it should be quicker which will provide an advantage.”

Securing the signatures of leading roads star, Harrison and former British Superstock champion, Cooper is a major coup for Alister Russell who has worked as crew chief to Keith Amor, Cameron Donald, Guy Martin and the late, William Dunlop. Last season was his first as a team principal, running Ian Hutchinson in the British Supersport championship alongside outings at the North West 200 and TT.

“It was a positive start for the new team with Ian and we hope to build on that in 2023 with Dean and Richard on the roads and short circuits.” Russell said.

“It is great to have two top class riders, both proven winners, on board for 2023. Richard proved the potential of the Yamaha during the final round of the British Supersport championship at Brands and with Dean joining him in the squad we now have two riders who should be fighting for podiums this year. It is a big thing for the team to have riders of their calibre. We will do selected rounds of the British championship and a lot more racing this time around than we did last year.”

Lee Johnston eyes big bike success

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!”

Posted on Tuesday, May 9th, 2023 in News

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