Gary Johnson and the RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki team enjoyed another strong day of racing at the International North West 200 on Saturday with the Lincolnshire rider claiming a best finish of fifth and three top eight finishes in total.
The highlight of the day came in the six-lap Superstock race when Gary only just missed out on a podium position on the Kawasaki ZX-10R. Ninth at the end of the opening lap around the high-speed 8.9-mile circuit, it was close between the leading pack and at the end of lap three, just 2.7s covered the leading eight riders with Gary up to seventh.
A lap later, this had become sixth as he lapped at 121.578mph, which, at the time, was the fastest lap of the race and when Dan Kneen ran straight on at Mather’s Cross on the final lap, it promoted him up the order to fifth, just over two seconds behind race winner Alastair Seeley.
The 37-year old also enjoyed a strong ride in the earlier Supersport race, slotting into third on his Triumph at the end of the first lap. He then promptly ran wide and onto the kerbs at the chicane but quickly regrouped and still occupied third place at the end of the fourth lap with just 1.7s covering the leading eight riders in what was a thrilling race. Unfortunately, a small technical problem on the final lap dropped him back to eighth at the chequered flag but it served warning to the opposition that he’ll be a major threat at the TT.
The Superbike races were also challenging affairs for the team but after cruelly being forced to retire from the opening seven-lap encounter on the last lap, when lying eighth, both Gary and the team bounced back to record the same position in the feature Superbike race with Gary setting more 121mph+ laps on the Kawasaki ZX-10R.
Gary Johnson: “All in all, today’s gone very well and it’s been nice to be back at the North West 200 and nice to battle with the leading pack and run competitive lap times in some good company. With not much track time prior to the event, we’ve made some huge steps forward this week and the team have worked absolutely brilliantly to give me bikes I was extremely happy with.”
“We always knew we wouldn’t be running our best Supersport engines here so to run in third place for much of the race bodes well for the TT whilst the Superstock bike was flying and at one stage I was the fastest man on track. A close fifth was a good result and although we had a few little niggling issues with the Superbike, the bike felt very stable at high speed and it was nice to get a decent finish in the last race. It’s been a good, solid North West 200 meeting and we’re not a million miles away so roll on the TT!”
Lee Hardy, Team Owner: “I’m more than happy with how the North West 200 has gone and really pleased with Gary’s performances across all of the classes and with the team’s effort. P5 in the Superstock race was a really strong ride and he was right on the back of the leading group whilst we’ve done a lot of work with the Supersport bike which could be seen in Gary riding at the front despite not having his fastest engine in the bike.”
“The Superbike was a bit more temperamental and after losing the first qualifying session on Tuesday, we’ve been playing catch up ever since! Gary ran inside in the top eight in both races though and we’ve gained some valuable data with a good idea of what direction we need to go in. After a couple of years away, it’s been good to be back at the North West 200 and whilst the weather obviously helps, a big thank you to Mervyn Whyte and his team for putting on a great event.”
The team now look forward to the Isle of Man TT Races with practice on the Mountain Course getting underway on Saturday 26th May.