High-profile newcomer Richard Cooper is confident he can make his presence felt at the fonaCAB International North West 200 this month.
The Nottingham rider has never raced on the roads before, but Cooper says the time is right to take on the challenge with Stuart and Steve Hicken’s Buildbase Suzuki team.
He has made a winning start this season in the National Superstock 1000 Championship and Cooper could spring a few surprises on his North West 200 debut.
An experienced competitor, the 35-year-old has the benefit of a proven international road racing team in his corner, with Ballymoney’s Michael Dunlop delivering victories for the Hickens’ Hawk Racing outfit at the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT.
Cooper said: “This year is the right year to do the North West and it’s all about the timing for me. I’ve been racing for 20 years and I’ve got vast experience in all classes, but road racing is one thing that I’ve never done.
“I’m quite fortunate that I’ve a team behind me that has great experience in road racing, so I’m coming with that knowledge. All I have to do is apply my experience of racing in the past to the roads.
“I think there are a number of people who would like to be in the position that I’m in with the team I’ve got the bikes that I’m going to be using.
“They’ve won at the TT, North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix and BSB races as well, so there aren’t any teams in the paddock that have done that,” he added.
“I’m quite fortunate to have a good team around me and that’s a big part of why I’ve decided to come this year. I’ll just focus on myself and try and enjoy it.”
Cooper struck a chord with fans here when he swept the board in the Superbike class on his debut at the Sunflower Trophy meeting at Bishopscourt last October.
The English rider has also been an interested spectator at the North West in the past, although Cooper will now have the chance to experience the thrill of racing around the 8.9-mile Triangle course in two weeks’ time.
“I’ve been over a few times for the North West, as a spectator and also to help out a friend who was racing at the time. I’ve been on this side of the fence for a long time so now it’s time to sample what the roads have to offer,” he said.
“The team knows that if they put a big-name road racer on that bike, there would be added pressure to come and win. But with myself we’re just coming to achieve what we can and if a better result comes, then we’ll take that as a positive.
“There is no target as such or goal being set, so we’ll just come and prove what we can do as a team and a rider.”
His fellow competitors in the British championship have successfully made the transition from the short circuits to the roads at the North West, most notably Carrickfergus men Glenn Irwin and Alastair Seeley, while Peter Hickman has scaled event greater heights, securing victory and a 135mph lap record in the Senior race at the Isle of Man TT last June.
And Cooper sees no reason why he cannot follow in their wheel tracks.
“I’ve beaten those boys on the short circuits and they’ve beaten me as well, but I’ve raced against them week in, week out and you can’t help but feel that if they’ve made the transition, then there’s no reason why I can’t if I come with the right attitude and preparation,” he said.
“I generally believe that we can be there or thereabouts when it comes to the race days.
“The North West was always quite high on my list of things to do as far as road racing is concerned. The Isle of Man I believe is a different level and I enjoy watching the Ulster Grand Prix when it’s on, but I’ve no ambition to go to it.
“I guess that’s because the North West is the first big road race of the year and it has an atmosphere around it that the others haven’t quite got.”
Looking back to the Sunflower Trophy races, Cooper said he would love to make a similar impact at the North West, although he accepts that he faces a much sterner test.
“The Sunflower meeting was a great event for myself and having raced for 20 years, there are not many tracks that are new to me because I’ve ridden most of them,” said Cooper.
“To experience a new track like Bishopscourt was something I really enjoyed and I was able to adapt quite quickly.
“I managed to win all three Superbike races there and it was a great experience. The people were so friendly and it would be nice of course to come to the North West and do something similar, but I also know that it’s a different category of racing.
“I’ll approach it as I always do in a professional manner and to the best of my ability.”