NW200: Lee Johnston unfazed by new Honda Racing challenge

Lee Johnston on the Honda Racing Fireblade SP2 during pre-season testing in Spain.
Lee Johnston on the Honda Racing Fireblade SP2 during pre-season testing in Spain.

New Honda Racing signing Lee Johnston doesn’t believe a lack of track time with the Fireblade SP2 will have an adverse affect on his prospects at the Vauxhall International North West 200 in May.

The Fermanagh man tested in Spain in March but poor weather effectively thwarted four of the six days he was due on track at Cartagena and Monteblanco.

Nonetheless, the typically unflappable Johnston – who is currently in Japan to test the Mugen Shinden ahead of the TT Zero race in June – has shrugged off his weather-blighted debut for the factory-supported Honda squad and remains upbeat as he targets a return to the top step around the Triangle course.

“I don’t see it as a major disadvantage,” said Johnston, who will participate in a further test at Castle Combe prior to the North West.

“By now we should have had six days of testing with the bikes but rain has wiped out four of those.

“I usually have at least one BSB outing before the North West but there is no similarity between road racing and a cold and wet Donington Park or Brands Hatch.

“There are pros and cons to the arguments about riding at the BSB meetings and the Oulton Park round might have been worth taking in but it’s just too close to the North West.”

Johnston won both Supertwins races at the North West in 2014 and added a Superstock triumph in 2015.

Last year, he finished on the podium in the first Superbike race on the Jackson Honda Fireblade.

The 29-year-old has been held back by injuries over the past two years, but he has now fully recovered from his crash in practice at last year’s Isle of Man TT and is looking forward to arriving on the North Coast fully fit in a few weeks’ time.

“I didn’t do any more testing on the BMW in 2015 than I have this year, which was the last time I got some good results and wasn’t injured or sore,” said Johnston, who worked on his bike fitness over the winter months by competing in Australia and New Zealand.

“I was out there racing when everyone else was eating their Christmas dinner. I feel completely fit and healthy with no niggles at all and feeling positive is half the battle.”

Johnston will also ride a Padgett’s Honda in the Supersport class this year.

A question mark remains over the fitness of his Honda Racing team-mate Ian Hutchinson, who is in a race against time to make the grid at the North West and TT.

Opening practice is scheduled to get underway at the North West 200 on Tuesday, May 15.