RISING STAR SHEILS TAKES WORTHY RUNNER-UP SPOT SUPERSPORT RESULTS
Armoy’s Race of Legends runner-up Derek Sheils may have lost out to local favourite Michael Dunlop at the Ballymoney ace’s home race but the Dubliner can lay claim to being the only man to have beaten the TT’S outright lap record holder in a superbike class road race so far in 2016.
In tricky damp conditions at July’s Walderstown road races, the Dubliner and his Burrows Suzuki squad outfoxed the usually wily Dunlop with a brilliant tyre switch from full wets to intermediates just before the feature race. Although the 13 times TT winner raced off into an early lead, Sheils hunted him down to take a famous victory and the €3500 winner’s purse.
“It was good to get that win,” Sheils smiled after finishing just behind Dunlop at Armoy. “I thought the intermediate would be the right tyre and the boys did a great job changing it like a TT pitstop between the two warm up laps.”
It was a move worthy of a man with Sheils’ experience. The 33-year-old started short circuit racing in 2002, and had his first between-the-hedges outing in 2007.
“My first race was at Tandragee and I think I was third or fourth in the support class,” he recalls. “The bikes I had then weren’t great to be honest.”
Coming from south of the border in Ireland, where bike racing isn’t as popular as it is in Northern Ireland, Sheils admits he has always struggled to find the funds for competitive machinery.
“There’s more sponsorship available up north where bike racing is like a national sport, whereas my next door neighbour in Dublin doesn’t know I race,” explains Sheils, who works as a gearbox reconditioner.
Road racing also attracts more backing in Ireland than track competition and once Sheils’ roads performances began to match his short circuit results he was offered better bikes.
“Chris Dowd gave me a Kawasaki ZX-10R superstock bike in 2013 that was a good bit better than the bikes I was riding before, and it was a progression of machinery from then on,” he recalls. “I won a couple of superbike races that year and that was the turning point.”
He was the Irish Superbike champion on the roads in 2013, a title he has already secured again in 2016 and over the past few seasons the laidback Dublin racer has picked up some memorable scalps to make him a regular frontrunner on the Irish scene.
Backed now by ex-racer-turned team owner John Burrows on an ex-tyco Suzuki superbike-spec GSX-R1000, Sheils made his third appearance at the TT in June, taking 13th place in the Senior race.
“My fastest lap was 126.99mph coming into the pits so we are calling it 127,” he smiles.
“I felt smooth and comfortable with no out-of-shape moments the whole TT so I was happy enough.”
It is the latest development in a racing career that is beginning to blossom after a stuttering start.
“You sort of get complacent for a while and then something puts a pep back in your step,” he says.
“It could be a new bike or a decent set up or whatever and then you get the drive again. I’m still only 33 and I never look too far ahead but I would like a good crack at the TT to see where we can go with that so that’s the goal. I’m looking forward to the Ulster next week too. I lapped well last year and I think the big Suzuki will work well round there.”
“It’s been a strange season,” he told MCN. “Last year I was struggling for pace, every weekend we were going to each track, scratching our heads and turning the bike upside down to try and find the speed to race at the front. This year, that hasn’t been the case and we’ve turned up at every track with a good base setting and speed to fight for podiums but things haven’t worked out on various days when we should have been up there, but that’s the way it goes in bike racing.”
Taking home 45 points from Thruxton, Laverty vaulted from seventh to fourth in the standings across the weekend and now has a 17-point lead on fifth-placed Dan Linfoot, making him feel much more secure as the showdown cut-off point looms.
“Thruxton was important for the championship as I’ve got a good buffer to the guy behind and if I’m being honest, I can see the top six as it stands (Byrne, Haslam, O’halloran, Laverty, Linfoot, Ellison) being the showdown title fighters as the Hondas have been very strong and Ellison has race-winning potential. It’ll be a tough ask for the rest to get in and even for my teammate, Christian Iddon to get back in after dropping out at Thruxton.”
As he heads to Brands, Laverty has the added bonus of being the last rider to win a race on the historic full-length configuration at the end of last season. With the series visiting the GP circuit twice and the second visit being for the ultimate title decider in October, Laverty will be working his Tyco BMW