Gary Johnson says there is no better place to kick-start the international road racing season than the Vauxhall International North West 200 in May.
Johnson, who returned to action at the Macau Grand Prix in November after a serious crash in the Superstock race at the Isle of Man TT curtailed his exploits in 2014, has secured factory backing this year after teaming up with British Superbike outfit GBmoto Kawasaki.
The charismatic 31-year-old, who clinched his second TT victory last summer with a superb win in the opening Supersport race, will ride ZX-10R machinery in the Superbike and Superstock classes at the North West, TT and Ulster Grand Prix.
“I first competed at the North West 200 in Superstock in 2007 and was happy to be the fastest ever newcomer,” said Johnson.
“It’s the perfect kick-off to the roads season. Testing in Spain is great but you need to get your head round the idea of sustained speeds into the 200mph zone.”
A former rostrum finisher in the Superstock class atthe North West in 2013, Johnson is well aware of the capabilities of the ZX-10R and pushed Michael Dunlop all the way at the TT, forcing the Ulster rider to set a staggering new lap record at 131.22mph to nail down a dramatic victory two years ago.
“You need a fast bike that’s stable in braking and the Kawasaki’s renowned as fast as stock [trim],” he said.
“It’s a fantastic package and you can see its success in both Superstock and Superbike trim. I have massive faith in the GBmoto squad to make it even better.”
GBmoto team principal Mark Smith-Halvorsen isexcited by the prospect of the team’s foray into international road racing for the first time this year and in Johnson has a top-class rider capable of challenging for race wins.
“We are really excited about this year and adding the roads to our racing schedule means new places, new people and new opportunities,” he said.
“We have a good schedule of testing lined up with Gary on both bikes and then we are onto the North West 200, which has such a great history in road racing terms. We know that the event is fantastically well run and the racing looks so exciting from the TV.”
NW200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte added: “It is 40 years since Mick Grant set a new lap record on a Kawasaki at the North West to make it the fastest circuit in the UK at that time,” said Whyte.
“It is brilliant news that the GBmoto Kawasaki squad have chosen to make its road racing debut at the Triangle with the very latest Kawasakis and a top class rider like Gary on board.”
Meanwhile, Tyco BMW’s Guy Martin could be poised to retire at the end of this season.
The truck mechanic and TV presenter hinted that he could hang up his leathers in an interview with the Times.
In the article, the 33-year-old told Rick Broadbent, the author of hugely successful TT book That Near Death Thing: Inside the Most Dangerous Race in the World: “I need to have a rest and re-set. My job is a truck mechanic and I’ve taken my eye off the ball. The TV stuff has knackered my racing too. Not in results – last year’s TT was one of my best – but I didn’t get five minutes. I used to go racing for fun. Now it’s hard work.”