Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston hopes to put two difficult years behind him after being officially confirmed in Honda Racing’s new-look line-up for 2018.
Johnston will team up with Ian Hutchinson on the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 in the Superbike and Superstock classes at the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix next year, replacing 23-time TT winner John McGuinness and Guy Martin.
The Northern Ireland rider has been hampered by injury over the past few seasons and was ruled out of the TT in June following a crash during practice.
However, he made a strong comeback at the Ulster Grand Prix, claiming two rostrum finishes in the Supersport races, and Johnston says he cannot wait to commence testing in March.
“I am genuinely excited about being with Honda Racing next year, I’m probably the most excited I’ve been in years if I’m honest!” said the Maguiresbridge man, who worked closely with Honda as a reserve rider in the Endurance World Championship at Le Mans this year.
“I have had two tough years and it’s nice to have everything organised and in place early so I have nothing to worry about apart from riding motorbikes.
“So that for me is the biggest thing and what I wanted more than anything, as I have no outside distractions and I can just concentrate on doing my job,” he added.
“I’ve ridden the Fireblade SP2 already at Le Mans, when I was a reserve rider for the Honda Endurance Racing team, so I’ve got a bit of a head start in that respect. I enjoy riding the CBR, the tank fits me well and it isn’t as big as it looks!
“I just can’t wait now for testing to start in March and just get going with the new programme for the year.”
Hutchinson, meanwhile, famously made history with a TT five-timer in 2010 on the Padgetts Honda machines and also rode for the official Honda team in 2007.
The Bingley Bullet, who leaves Northern Ireland’s Tyco BMW team after two seasons, is recovering from injury after crashing in the Senior race at the TT, but Hutchy is working hard on his fitness and is confident he will be ready to hit the ground running in the New Year.
“I’m really looking forward to getting started with Honda Racing; it’s a new challenge and a fresh start for me,” said 16-time TT winner Hutchinson.
“I suppose I have quite a bit of history with Honda: ten years ago I rode with this official team and in 2009/2010 I rode with Padgetts Honda, where I scored five-TT wins in a week, so I know the Fireblade pretty well.
“I haven’t ridden the Fireblade SP2 yet and will have to wait until we go testing early next year, but I can’t wait to start making some progress,” added the 38-year-old.
“The Honda team has a lot of experience at the TT and its history speaks for itself with the wins and successes over the years, it’s also nice to see a lot of the team still here who I worked with in the past, so I’m confident that come the New Year we can get started and start aiming to where we want to be.”
With a long established history at the Isle of Man TT, Honda remains the most successful manufacturer at the event and the Fireblade still holds the accolade as the most successful 1000cc machine ever around the 37.73-mile circuit with 23 TT victories.
After winter testing, the North West 200 will be the first outing for Johnston and Hutchinson as the main international season clicks into gear from May 15-19.