Derek McGee was crowned Irish Superbike champion at the East Coast Racing Festival at Killalane on Sunday, where Ballymoney’s Gary Dunlop won his very first road race.
Mullingar rider McGee had been an injury doubt for the final Irish National meeting of 2017 after he was involved in a crash at the Ulster Grand Prix in August, sustaining a hip injury, but McGee recovered sufficiently to take his place on the grid for the Open Championship race.
Dublin’s Derek Sheils went into the race as the hot favourite on the Cookstown B.E. Racing and he lived up to expectations on John Burrows’ Suzuki, blitzing the field to win by more than 15 seconds from Skerries man Michael Sweeney on the MJR BMW.
However, third place was enough to wrap up the championship for McGee, who was also crowned Irish Supersport and Supertwins champion at Armoy at the end of July.
Sheils had been leading the Superbike championship after dominating on the GSX-R1000 at the National meetings, but he was forced to miss the Armoy round after previously agreeing to be the best man at a friend’s wedding.
His absence opened the door for McGee to take the championship lead and he carried an advantage of 17 points into the final race at Killalane, which proved insurmountable for Sheils.
Seamus Elliott finished fourth in the Open race behind McGee, with Davy Morgan fifth. Darryl Tweed, who impressed at the Manx Grand Prix, rounded out the top six.
In the Moto3/125GP race, Paul Robinson made a flying start but the Ballymoney rider was forced out with a machine problem, paving the way for Gary Dunlop to take the lead on the Joey’s Bar Honda Moto3.
Cheered on by the fans, Dunlop – who made his roads debut last year – went on to secure his maiden win on his debut at Killalane by 10.5 seconds from Nigel Moore, with Melissa Kennedy making it onto the rostrum in third place.
Seamus Elliott – who won the Lightweight Supersport 400 race – was involved in a big crash in the race, but fortunately escaped without any serious injuries.
In the Supersport class, it was Sweeney who had the bit between his teeth as the Irish rider clinched a double.
With already crowned champion McGee opting not to compete in the 600cc races, Sweeney stole a march in the non-championship race at the beginning of the day, winning comfortably from Sheils by four seconds.
Magherafelt man Paul Jordan finished third on the IMR Evolution Camping Yamaha R6 ahead of Tweed and Callum Laidlaw.
In the Irish Championship race, Sweeney had to dig deeper as a thrilling battle erupted at the front involving Jordan and Sheils.
Sheils, riding the Cookstown B.E. Racing Honda, snatched second place from Jordan to take up the chase behind Sweeney, who held on to complete his brace by only 0.160s on the line.
Jordan was 1.2 seconds back in third with Kevin Fitzpatrick, Tweed and Graham Kennedy the top six.
Joe Loughlin won the Senior Support race and was leading the Junior Support race when it was red-flagged due to rain. A delay was called, but with strong winds and the threat of rain, the organisers called a halt to the programme.