North West 200: Lee Johnston happy to be back as a privateer for 2019

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Honda experience gave me a fresh outlook - Johnston

Lee Johnston says being part of the Honda factory team last season has given him "a new perspective" as he returns to privateer status for 2019.

Johnston, 30, will ride Superbike and Superstock BMWs, plus a Supersport Yamaha under an Ashcourt Racing banner.

"Probably the last time I was in a private team I probably looked at people on factory bikes and thought I was missing out on something," he said.

"Now I don't have that in my head. I feel lucky to have my private team."

The Fermanagh rider added: "I maybe wasted a bit of my energy on thinking that but I feel genuinely fortunate to have such good people around me putting the work in. All they want is for me to win."

Johnston began last season on a high note by achieving three third places and a fourth at the North West 200 in May but was unable to replicate those results at the Isle of Man TT or Ulster Grand Prix.

Now the former British Superstock 600cc champion is reverting to a new outfit with the help of backing from long-time sponsors East Coast Construction and Burdens Racing.

The England-based rider took two Supertwins successes at the North West in 2014 and added a Superstock triumph in 2015, the same year as he secured a treble at the Ulster Grand Prix.

Lee Johnston
Johnston clinched a double Supertwins success at the 2014 North West 200

"The new team is something I've worked very hard at over the winter and now we need to be going thinking about winning races," he said.

"I haven't won a race at the North West for a few years now but I'm mostly racing the same people that I did when I was winning races.

"If everything comes together like it did in 2015 we should get some good results. If I can win any race at the North West I'd be a happy boy."

Johnston is happy to be surrounded by familiar faces as he embarks on a new campaign.

"Nobody in the team is there for the money. They are there because they want to win races and want to help me out," he explained.

"It's a big effort by everyone from the sponsors to the mechanics and they are working round the clock getting the bikes ready.

"Recently I put a bike in the van and went to Spain for a few weeks myself. I just wanted to get riding again.

"The last few seasons I haven't got a lot of testing done because of the weather and test plans not working out."

Lee Johnston on board his Honda Racing Fireblade at last year's North West 200
Lee Johnston on board his Honda Racing Fireblade at last year's North West 200

In addition to his road racing programme, Johnston will take in the British Supersport championship for the first time since 2011 and he insists he will not be going to make up the numbers.

"I'm not just going to ride round in British Supersport - that's just wasting time. I want to go and try as hard as I can," he added.

"You can't go with the attitude that you don't want to get hurt because that's when you do have a little slip-off and end up getting hurt.

"I'm under no illusions how hard it's going to be with Jack Kennedy and Alistair Seeley there, plus numerous other top British riders. It's going to be really tough so I'm going to have to push on.

"I haven't ridden on tracks for a number of years and although you know where the circuits go the first sessions will be an eye opener as regards the finer details such as the gearing.

"The key is not to panic but relax and build up to the weekend, not worrying about not being at the sharp end right from the start."