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Local hopes are pinned on Johnston at Ulster GP

MCE Ulster Grand Prix

By Roy Harris ·

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Local hero: Lee Johnston on his Honda Fireblade

The MCE Ulster Grand Prix Bike Week is in full swing and this evening three motorcycle convoys will converge for a lap of the world-renowned 7.4-mile Dundrod Circuit.

Building on the success of the past two years, the formidable force that is the Dromara Destroyers will lead a ride out from the Village Square in Dromara and anyone wishing to join them should be there for 7pm.

The second ride out will be for scooters and Vespas, leaving the Great Victoria Street premises of Scooter Specialist NI at 7.30pm.

The final convoy, for Harley Davidsons, will leave their showroom in Kilbegs Business Park in Antrim at 7.30pm.

Track action is scheduled for tomorrow with the first practice and qualifying sessions. Roads around the circuit will close from 10am.

Following practice, 'An Evening with the World's Best Road Racers' will take place in the hospitality marquee, with race commentator Chris Kinley hosting the question and answer session with top competitors.

Roads will again close at 10am on Thursday ahead of the second practice sessions, which will be followed by the first races of the international meeting - the Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council Supersport, DGH Services Supertwins, Belfast International Airport Ultra Lightweight and Lightweight, concluding with the Circle K Superbike race.

The competitors have a day off from action on Friday, but there will be plenty to entertain the fans with a 'Meet the Riders' event at the Airport Road Circle K Service Station at 11am, and E-Trax NI, Northern Ireland's first indoor motocross experience, will be open from 12pm in their brand new facility at the Moira Road roundabout where you can test one of the new electric bikes on-track.

A trail bike display will take place in the paddock from 6pm on Friday evening, while the Ulster Classic Motorcycle Club are holding a charity grass track in aid of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance at Fort Road (just off Deer's Leap) with racing scheduled from 5pm.

Roads close at 9.30am on Saturday morning for a seven-race programme preceded by a 20-minute warm-up for Supersport, Superbike and Superstock machines.

When practice begins tomorrow, interest will centre on which of the local competitors can ruffle the feathers of last year's treble winner Peter Hickman, Dundrod outright lap record holder Dean Harrison and Manxman Conor Cummins in Superbike, Superstock and Supersport.

Lee Johnston, originally from Maguiresbridge but now based in Hull, is the obvious choice.

The 29-year-old has six wins around the Dundrod Circuit, including a memorable treble in 2015 in the Supersport and Superstock, along with a third-place Superbike finish.

With the might of Honda UK and Padgetts Honda behind him, Johnston would leave Dundrod disappointed if he did not stand on the rostrum at least twice.

Derek McGee and Adam McLean will be strongly fancied for top-six finishes, while Paul Jordan has the Dafabet Devitt Racing Superstock Kawasaki at his disposal, and if he gets to grips with the machine, a top-10 finish is a realistic aim.

Jordan will also be a top-six prospect in the Supersport after coming fifth in the second race of the class last year.

Gary Dunlop, Neil Kernohan, Davy Morgan, Paul Robinson, Seamus Elliott, Christian Elkin and Michael Sweeney will all be strong contenders in various classes over what should be a thrilling few days of action.

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Local hero: Lee Johnston on his Honda Fireblade
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Lee Johnston