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One of the Vauxhall North West 200’s highest profile newcomers has had a last minute switch of machinery.

Former British Supersport champion Karl Harris was in danger of being a no show for the biggest road race of the year when the PR Kawasaki squad he rides for in the BSB championship ran into financial difficulties. But Ballymoney-based Millsport Racing stepped in to save the day for ‘Bomber’ Harris with the offer of a Superstock-spec 1199R Ducati Panigale.

“I have never ridden a Ducati before but the Panigale seemed very strong for a Superstock machine,” said Harris after testing the bike at a damp Kirkistown on Thursday.

The 32-year-old will race the bike in four races - the Superstock event on Thursday evening and again in Saturday’s Superstock race as well as both Superbike events on race day. The Panigale was the bike that the team’s principal rider, Lee Johnston was earmarked to race in this year’s North West but the broken leg he suffered in a BSB crash at Thruxton a month ago has ruled him out of the bigger bike races, leaving his machine available to Harris.

“We are disappointed that Lee can’t ride the bike but we are delighted to have Karl on it now and he has the capability to put in a very strong performance on the Ducati even though it is his first North West,” team boss Patrick Murray said.

Murray also revealed that Johnston had ridden the squad’s Supersport and Supertwin machines at Kirkistown on Thursday hopefully in preparation for an appearance on the grid at Portrush next week.

“Lee has no pins or anything in the leg and he has been receiving laser treatment as well as visiting a hyperbaric chamber to speed up the healing process,” he revealed.

“He was very comfortable and fast on both bikes at Kirkistown and if he passes a medical on Monday he will be fit to practice on Tuesday.”