Michael Dunlop dominated qualifying to commence his bid for a record seventh consecutive victory in the ‘Race of Legends’ in style at the Roadside KIA Armoy Road Races.
The Ballymoney rider, who has been unbeaten on his home patch in the blue riband event since 2011, lapped at 101.603mph to clinch pole by 5.1 seconds on the Bennetts Suzuki GSX-R1000.
His older brother William was second fastest on the Temple Golf Club Yamaha R1 with a speed of 96.946mph, with Derek McGee (Kawasaki) a further one second adrift in third.
Magherafelt man Paul Jordan went fourth fastest on the IMR Evolution Camping BMW, only half a second behind McGee, with James Cowton (McAdoo Kawasaki) and Adam McLean completing the top six on his 600cc MSS Kawasaki.
Newcomer Joey Thompson, riding Ian Lougher’s 600 Kawasaki, impressed in seventh as he finished ahead of Darryl Tweed (Taylor Lindsey Honda).
On a day when mixed weather conditions provided a challenge for the race organisers, the opening Supersport 600 race was called off after Paul Jordan and Adam McLean came off on lap one, forcing a red flag. Both riders were unhurt.
The race was re-started over the shortened distance of five laps, but was again halted on lap three when Derek McGee held a narrow advantage over Michael Dunlop, whose Yamaha R6 appeared to suffer a blown engine in the village.
With oil dropped on the circuit as a result, combined with the onset of rain, the organisers drew a line under the day’s events.
However, McGee was later declared the winner of the race from Davey Todd and Christian Elkin.
Southern Irishman McGee – who is riding the B&W Site Sealants Kawasaki that was raced earlier this season by Jordan – sealed pole by 2.7 seconds in the Supersport class.
Tobermore prospect McLean, who won the 600 race on his debut at Walderstown, was second fastest, around 1.4 seconds ahead of Jordan, who has been riding the ex-Tarran Mackenzie Yamaha under the IMR Evolution Camping banner since the Walderstown meeting.
Christian Elkin was only seven tenths back in fourth on the Bob Wylie Kawasaki, followed by Tweed and Michael Sweeney.
TT star Dunlop was seventh fastest in practice on his Yamaha, although his brother William is a non-starter in the class at Armoy, with his own Yamaha R6 undergoing some tweaks ahead of the upcoming MCE Ulster Grand Prix.
“The Ulster Grand Prix is in my mind because it’s just around the corner, so I thought we might as well get some work done to the 600 before we go to Dundrod,” Dunlop said.
“It’s a pity because I have a good record at Armoy and Guy [Martin] was the last person to beat me in a 600 race at Armoy [in 2014] and that was in the wet.”
McLean will start the Moto3 (125GP) race on pole on Mark Hanna’s 125cc Honda after edging out Elkin (Bob Wylie Honda M3) by 0.170s, with McGee on the Joey’s Bar Honda 1.7s adrift in third.
Joe Thompson was fourth fastest ahead of Paul Robinson and Gary Dunlop – both riding Moto3 Honda machines – with Welsh great Ian Lougher in eighth on his own Moto3 Honda.
A brilliant race is in prospect on Saturday with one of the best line-ups for the ‘tiddlers’ class at an Irish road race for some time.
James Cowton headed the Supertwins times from McGee, McLean, Elkin and Joe Loughlin, who is bidding for a third straight win after victories at Walderstown and Faugheen.
Neil Kernohan topped the Lightweight Supersport/250GP times on the Logan Honda from Darryl Tweed and Seamus Elliott.
A non-championship Senior Support race was held on Friday evening, with Adam Lyon a surprise winner over Castleblayney’s Loughlin, who has dominated the class in 2017.
Roads close on Saturday at 10am sharp for a nine-race programme.