William Dunlop will be aiming to make a winning start to the 2017 Irish road racing season at the Around-A-Pound Tandragee 100 on Saturday after a frustrating winter.
Dunlop will be the race favourite in the Supersport class on the IC Racing/Caffrey Yamaha R6 and won the corresponding race last year at the North Armagh Club’s meeting.
He retained the Irish Supersport Championship in 2016 after winning each round he entered with the exception of Walderstown, where the 31-year-old had to settle for the runner-up spot behind Derek McGee.
Dunlop has been left on the back foot this year after his deal to ride in the 1000cc class for Halsall Racing faltered. The ex-British Superbike team acquired BMW machinery but an issue over parts meant Dunlop hasn’t rode a Superbike in anger since the Ulster Grand Prix last August.
However, in a late development this week, Dunlop has been offered a 1000cc machine to race at Tandragee and is poised to ride the bike in practice on Friday.
He was due to race at Bishopscourt over Easter at the Enkalon Trophy meeting but an engine problem meant he never completed a single full lap of the Co Down circuit.
“I was at Bishopscourt but we had a problem with the engine in the 600 and I never even managed a full lap,” Dunlop told the News Letter.
“I borrowed an engine, but we put it into the bike and it just didn’t want to go either, so it turned into a bit of a nightmare really.
“But we’ve got our own engine back now and it’s sorted for Tandragee. We’ll just need to run it in and if the bike goes right, then we’ll have a good chance of getting a win.”
Dunlop expects his main opposition in the Supersport race to come from Mullingar man Derek McGee plus Derek Sheils on John Burrows’ Honda.
“McGee pushed me rightly a couple of years back and Sheils will be strong at Tandragee too because his 600 is as quick as anything out there,” he added.
“We should have enough but I’m not having the best of luck at the moment, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Dunlop is set to miss next weekend’s Cookstown 100 meeting to race in a Thundersport GB event at Snetterton instead.
“If I had a full fleet of bikes then it wouldn’t be too bad at Cookstown because you’d get a bit more track time, but I’ll probably go to Snetterton instead.
“You get a lot of time on the bike at the Thundersport rounds and I need as much track time as I can get at the minute.”
He was keeping his cards close to his chest over the Superbike machine he has been offered for Tandragee, saying only that he will make a decision whether or not to ride the bike on Friday morning.
A superb meeting is in prospect, with Guy Martin set to make his roads return on the new Honda Fireblade SP2 Superstock machine.
Martin hasn’t raced at Tandragee since 2005 and faces a tall order against the likes of Dubliner Sheils on John Burrows’ GSX-R1000 Suzuki, plus McGee on his Kawasaki ZX-10R.
The line-up also includes Skerries rider Michael Sweeney, Alan Bonner, Seamus Elliott, Shaun Anderson, Gary Dunlop and the evergreen Davy Morgan.
Magherafelt’s Paul Jordan and Adam McLean from Tobermore, both of whom will make their debuts at the Isle of Man TT this year, are also entered and will ride Kawasaki machinery in the Supersport class.
The feature Tandragee 100 race has a prize fund of more than £2,000, with £1,000 going to the winner.
Roads will close for practice at 3pm and on Saturday from 10am.
Programmes cost £15 and admission to the official car parks and grandstands is £5.
Saturday’s Race order:
Race 1 – McCrum’s Motorcycles Open
Race 2 – Principal Insurance Junior Support
Race 3 – McCullagh Property Supersport
Race 4 – Phillip Riddell Memorial Classic
Race 5 – City Autos Lightweight
Race 6 – Tandragee Supervalu Senior Support
Race 7 – Tayto NI Ltd Supertwins
Race 8 – Around-A-Pound Tandragee 100 Senior Open