Tyco BMW’s Michael Laverty will stake his claim for an unprecedented seventh Sunflower Trophy success at Bishopscourt in Co. Down this weekend.
The 37-year-old spearheads the Moneymore team’s bid for victory at Ireland’s premier short circuit meeting near Downpatrick, although fellow British Superbike rider Christian Iddon is set to miss out.
Laverty said: “I’m looking forward to coming home for the Sunflower, it’s always a great event and an enjoyable way to round out the season.
“The competition will be tough, especially with BSB riders Danny Buchan and Richard Cooper also on the grid, but I will give it my best to try and etch my name on the trophy for the seventh time.
“Bishopscourt is a great venue – the improvements to the circuit really impressed me last year so thanks to Philip and Hector Neill, plus the Hillsborough Club who have made it possible for me to race there once again.”
Stockport man Iddon will skip the event on medical grounds after breaking his collarbone at Silverstone last month. He aggravated the injury further after crashing out in qualifying at the final BSB round at Brands Hatch last weekend, where he finished fourth and fifth in Sunday’s races in the wet.
However, Philip and Hector Neill’s TAS Racing team holds a strong hand with Laverty, who finished as the runner-up in 2017 as he returned to the event for the first time since he won the trophy for a record sixth time in 2010.
He finished 10th in Saturday’s opening BSB race at Brands, but Laverty crashed out twice in the wet on Sunday, escaping unscathed. The former British Supersport champion ended the season in 13th place overall in the standings, with team-mate Iddon in ninth.
Laverty’s main opposition includes two-time Sunflower winner and fellow BSB rider Danny Buchan, who returns to Bishopscourt on the FS-3 Kawasaki, plus Buildbase Suzuki’s Richard Cooper.
Nottingham-based Cooper is making his debut at the event and warmed up in style at Brands Hatch, where he won the final Showdown race of the season on the GSX-R1000 at the rain-lashed Kent circuit.
Top international road racer Dean Harrison will also compete at the Sunflower meeting for the very first time. The Bradford rider, who won the second Supersport race at the Isle of Man TT in June, will ride the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki.
Harrison has been a regular at the BSB rounds in 2018, which he feels have enabled him to hone his skills for the major road races.
The 28-year-old will again compete in the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki colours in 2019, when his main target will be a Superbike victory at the TT.
He narrowly missed out in June, retiring while leading the Superbike race and finishing as the runner-up in a record-breaking Senior race, which climaxed in a pulsating final-lap shootout with eventual winner Peter Hickman.
Another strong contender this weekend is Lisburn’s Carl Phillips, who finished on the rostrum in the blue riband race in 2017 behind Glenn Irwin and Laverty.
Phillips has taken some time away from the sport after losing his BSB ride with the Gearlink Kawasaki team, but he has done a deal to ride the Jason McCaw Roofing Kawasaki.
Practice will be held on Friday, with a five-race programme scheduled.
The main race bill, including the prestigious Sunflower race, will be held on Saturday. Admission is £15 on Friday and £20 on Saturday. A weekend pass costs £25. Children under free.