Honda Racing’s Lee Johnston made the perfect start to the 2018 Vauxhall International North West 200 as he set the fastest Superbike lap on Tuesday.
The Fermanagh man, who was riding the CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 in anger on the roads for the first time, clocked a lap of 116.701mph to head the times by almost 2.7 seconds from Tyco BMW rider Michael Dunlop.
Johnston, though, has not yet officially qualified for Saturday’s two Superbike races after only completing one full qualifying lap.
The Superbike session was red-flagged after 20 minutes due to a crash involving two riders at University corner, escaping serious injury.
Johan Fredriks (Kawasaki), from The Netherlands, was treated at the scene for ankle injuries by the MCUI Medical team before being airlifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast by the NI Air Ambulance.
The possibility of running the rest of the session later in the afternoon was mooted, but no further Superbike laps were run after the Supertwins and Superstock practice sessions were completed.
Johnston ended the day on top of the pile for Honda and the ‘General’ was all smiles afterwards.
“I felt it was a shame that it got stopped because I was just getting into the swing of it and was feeling that we were ready to start pushing on really,” he said.
“It’s early and the times are steady enough but it’s always nice to be at the front I suppose – it’s a good feeling.
“It’s a big team and everyone mentions the fact that I’ve got all this support now, but I just want to win races the same as I’ve always done for myself.”
A shower of rain before the Superbikes ventured onto the 8.9-mile course, coupled with cool temperatures, created less than ideal conditions on the North Coast.
Ballymoney man Dunlop, who had earlier topped the Supersport times on his MD Racing Honda, lapped at 115.577mph to set the second quickest time of the opening day, placing him ahead of McAdoo Kawasaki rider James Cowton (113.662mph) and Glenn Irwin on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati, who won last year’s showpiece Superbike race at his first attempt.
BSB star Irwin managed only three laps in all on Tuesday as the Carrick man is once again entered solely in the Superbike class.
Irwin made his frustration clear after the rest of the session did not run later in the afternoon, saying: “I would have been better off going to the BSB test at Snetterton.
“I’m only riding the Superbike but I shouldn’t have to be riding in other classes to get the required amount of laps I need. We could have got another two laps in today, there was still time.
“Hopefully Mervyn [Whyte] will make sure we get plenty of time on Thursday. We need laps and I don’t want to be sticking my neck out on Saturday – I have got a family to think about.”
James Hillier (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) and Conor Cummins on the Padgett’s Honda were the top six ahead of William Dunlop (Temple Golf Club Yamaha) and Derek McGee (CITP Kawasaki).
Ian Hutchinson was 12th fastest on the Honda Racing Fireblade as he made his return to road racing from injury.
“It has been frustrating missing on out time on the bike, but I’m glad to get today out of the way,” said Hutchinson. “I felt comfortable on the bike.”
A number of top contenders missed the chance to set a fast time when the session was halted just as they were beginning to up the ante, including Alastair Seeley, Peter Hickman, Michael Rutter, Dean Harrison and Dan Kneen.