William Dunlop has confirmed his participation in this weekend’s 70th Anniversary AXA Bikecare Skerries 100 in north Dublin.
Dunlop, who may be joined at the event by his younger brother and 13-time Isle of Man TT winner Michael, has been battling injury after a crash on the first night of practice at the Isle of Man TT.
The 30-year-old sustained back and hand injuries and although he made an appearance at the Kells Road Races earlier this month after committing to the event prior to his TT spill, Dunlop struggled on his 600cc Yamaha in particular during practice.
Heavy rain forced the cancellation of the Kells meeting and Dunlop was considering giving the second southern Irish road race of the season at Skerries a miss to focus on building his fitness for next month’s MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod.
However, the Ballymoney man, who won the Supersport race at the event last summer, will be on the grid with his IC Racing Yamaha R6 and MMB Yamaha R1 Superbike as practice gets under way on Friday afternoon.
Senior TT winner and new outright Mountain Course lap record-holder Michael is also among the entries at his sponsor Gary Ryan’s home circuit, where the 27-year-old finished fourth in the Grand Final on his BMW Superstock machine last year.
The Dunlop boys are obvious contenders but home favourite Derek Sheils will also be a tough nut to crack.
The Dublin man has been in excellent form at the Irish National meetings this season on John Burrows’ Cookstown B.E. Racing Suzuki Superbike, taking wins at the Mid Antrim and Cookstown.
Sheils bagged a big bike double at Skerries last year to send the local fans home happy and in addition to the Open and Grand Final races, the Dublin rider will also compete in the Supersport class on the Cookstown B.E. Racing Honda and the Supertwins race on the same Kawasaki raced by Peter Hickman for the Dungannon team in the Lightweight TT last month.
Team boss Burrows is under no illusions over the level of opposition Sheils faces on Saturday, but he is quietly confident his rider will be right at the sharp end.
“When myself and Derek got together for this season, some people said the Suzuki wasn’t good enough for the roads and some said the Suzuki would struggle to work on Dunlop tyres,” Burrows said.
“So far, I think we’ve proved them wrong and the Suzuki is still a strong package. There’s no pressure on Derek this weekend from my point of view, but I’m not going to lie – there’s no doubt he’s in a very strong position heading into his home race at Skerries.
“He’ll also be riding our 600 Honda this weekend as well as the Kawasaki Supertwin that Peter Hickman rode at the Isle of Man TT.
“Derek has a full stable of bikes now and it means that when he gets out on the big bike, he’s that bit sharper because he’s had more track time under his belt,” he added.
“If you look at the likes of the Mid Antrim 150 at the beginning of the season, Derek only rode in the two big races, but now he’ll have four rides on Saturday.”
Burrows and his team are still recovering from the tragic death of Malachi Mitchell-Thomas at the North West 200 in May, although the former racer-turned-team-manager says Sheils’ easy-going approach to racing has helped ease the strain of the past few weeks, with the team opting to continue racing with the blessing of Malachi’s father Kevin.
“I think Derek is probably one of the best guys we could have in our team at this present time because he’s easy to work with and we’re looking forward to this weekend,” he said.
“I’ll be there myself on Friday for practice but on Saturday I have to come back home because my son Jack is having his first kart race. The boys will keep me informed about what’s happening.”
Skerries man Michael Sweeney is another rider in form who will be eyeing the rostrum at Skerries along with Mullingar’s Derek McGee, who qualified on pole for the Supersport race at Kells.
Roads close for practice from 2pm-9.30pm and from 9am-6.30pm for racing. Admission is £20/20 euros.