Manxman Conor Cummins ducked below the radar of last season’s rumour frenzy to clinch one of the plum seats in the paddock for 2014.
As John McGuinness’s team mate in the factory Honda squad, the Ramsey man will be part of what is generally regarded as the best road race team in the business.
It is an opportunity that he intends to make the most of at the 2014 Vauxhall International North West 200 come May.
“What Honda don’t know about setting up a race bike isn’t worth knowing,” he said confidently.
“I had never ridden a Fireblade in my life before but I felt comfortable straight away on it at the first test. That gives you confidence.”
Still only 27, Cummins has experienced pretty much everything that road racing can throw at you. After serving his apprenticeship on the British short circuit scene, the lofty Manxman made his between the hedges debut at the North West in 2006 at the tender age of 19.
“It was my first ever road race and so the race will always have a special place in my heart,” he smiled.
“Now I will be going there as a factory Honda rider and I will be riding the new SP for the first time”
Cummins will also race a Superstock-spec Fireblade in the colours of the RAF Reserve team alongside a CBR600RR for Jackson Racing at Portrush. (The Fireblade has been prepared by the factory Honda mechanics.)
“I haven’t tested the SP yet but I’ve done lots of testing on the Stocker and the 600,” he said.
“The first test on the big bike will be at Castle Coombe after Brands BSB.”
Since his debut year, Cummins bike racing career plummeted to the lowest depths of despair before climbing once again to his current position as Honda’s replacement for 2013 North West and four-time TT winner, Michael Dunlop. Before suffering career threatening injuries in the 2010 Senior TT, the Ramsey rider proved his class by lapping the TT Mountain course at over 131 mph from a standing start on the McAdoo Kawasaki ZX10..
“That was an unproven bike, built in a shed in Cookstown,” he reflected.
Since then he has had raced for both the Suzuki and Yamaha official squads but a combination of ill fortune and machine failure have dogged his progress in recent seasons.
After recovering from his 2010 injuries Cummins was signed by Tyco Suzuki for 2012 but a crash at Mather’s chicane at the North West 200 left him with a broken hand and destroyed his whole season.
He bounced back in 2013 with the Milwaukee Yamaha team but the Manxman now admits that he never got to grips with the fearsomely fast R1 Yamaha.
“I was 20 seconds off the pace of the fastest lap in the Superbike race at the TT last year,” he said.
“The bike was superfast, topping all of the speed trap speeds, but the team just couldn’t get it to handle. The bike was riding me and I didn’t have the confidence to push on.”
Cummins did manage to salvage a podium in the 2013 Lightweight TT for Ryan Farquhar’s KMR Kawasaki squad. But the quiet man of road racing wants to make his mark in 2014 on the factory Honda.
“People can get overawed and carried away in this position but I don’t see it that way,” he said.
“Honda has given me bikes because they think that I can do the job. They want to win and so do I.”