YOU DON’T HAVE TO HATE YOUR RIVALS
Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison remain the best of mates even if they’re taking chunks out of each other on track Age 32 TT wins 1 Fastest lap 132.414mph
For TT 2017 the race organisers have decided to play up the bad-tempered rivalry between Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson that festered throughout last year’s event. Their animosity is being promoted as something fans can get behind at this year’s races by purchasing a programme that has their particular favourite emblazoned on the cover. The concept is alien to racing best mates, Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison.
“You don’t have to hate someone to race against them,” Johnston says. “I think there is too much emphasis on everyone thinking you have to fall out with someone to be able to race against them. You don’t.”
“If someone beats you then you have to be man enough to say that the best man won,” Harrison agrees.
To prove their point the Bradford boy and his Fermanagh friend refer to their battles during this year’s North West 200.
“In the 600 race I was one place in front of Lee and in the Superstock race I was one place behind him,” Harrison smiles.
“I’m not going to fall out with him; the best man wins on the day and if you don’t win then come back and have another go. Your day hopefully will come and you just keep trying.”
“We really, really care about winning and riding our bikes but at the end of the day it’s a motorbike race and there is a whole big world out there called real life,” Johnston chimes.
Johnston and Harrison have only known each other for a few years but the pair have developed a close bond and Harrison jokes that they know each other so well there’s no room for the normal racing bullshit. “It’s like when someone says after a race that they had a little bit left in the bag,” he says. “Have they ever!”
Johnston doesn’t see the point in all the smoke and mirrors stuff. “We ride together all the time, we do everything together, so we know how the other one is and it doesn’t stop either of us from beating each other. That’s the thing that gets me. Take Rutter and Mcguinness, they have to know exactly what each other is thinking. Even Michael and Hutchy have raced together so long there can’t really be anything that they don’t know about each other.”
The next generation
Both Harrison and Johnston have tasted enough of the winner’s champagne to know what they are talking about when it comes to racing on the roads.
Harrison picked up where Guy Martin left off as a Scarborough specialist, dominating proceedings at Oliver’s Mount over the last couple of seasons. Already a TT winner in the 2014 Lightweight race, he has been knocking at the door of Supersport and Superstock TT glory with regular podium finishes. The 28-year-old has settled into a comfortable groove with Paul Iddon’s Silicone Engineering Kawasaki squad after a troubled 2015 on the Mar-train Yamaha. Harrison has dropped the Supertwins class this time around but will line up in all the main TT races on the green and blue Kawasakis.
Johnston’s brilliant 2015 season, when he won races at the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix, and claimed his maiden TT podium in the Superstock race on the East Coast Racing BMWS, turned to dust last year. Injuries picked up in a crash at the Scarborough Spring Cup and the death of his father detuned the usually bubbly Ulsterman.
Johnston’s last-minute defection from the Jackson Racing Hondas he was scheduled to race to his trusty East Coast Racing BMW stocker and a Padgett’s CBR600RR Honda are an indication of his determination to turn that situation around. The 28-year-old will also ride a Ryan Farquhar-prepared KMR Kawasaki in the Lightweight race. Johnston says nothing less than wins will satisfy him in 2017.
“Anybody who is going to the TT amongst the top ten boys has the potential to win,” explains Johnston.
“You have to try to win because even a podium at the TT is an awesome feeling. To ride up the return road and see Paul Phillips standing there waving you into the winner’s enclosure is awesome. You don’t realise the amount of effort from the whole squad that goes in to getting there.”
Harrison is equally clear about his TT ambitions.
“I want to win on a big bike at the TT, win the Senior,” he lays out straight.
“I’d take a win in the stock 1000 race because I’ve been second twice now in that class. To ride a big bike round there for four or six laps is hard, I don’t care what anyone says. You go off on the first lap thinking: ‘I’ve got four or six laps’ and you know you are in for it. It’s more mentally destroying than physical.”
And the duo’s prime motivation when they arrive on the Island?
“It’s the fact that you can’t come back for a whole year to have another go,” Johnston laughs. “You do a BSB race or a World Supersport or whatever and the next weekend you can right a wrong. If you have a s**t TT, a year is a long time. Every Joe Bloggs you meet in the pub tells you that you had a s**t TT. ‘Yes I know I had a s**t TT, thanks for reminding me.’ That’s all you hear for a year!”
‘TO SEE PAUL PHILLIPS STANDING THERE WAVING YOU INTO THE WINNER’S ENCLOSURE IS AWESOME’
After the promise shown by a third place finish in the 2015 Superbike TT and a second in the Senior, James Hillier’s 2016 TT results failed to impress. Supersport and Superstock podiums plus a runner-up slot in the Lightweight TT didn’t make up for the disappointment of finishing 11th and 9th in the big bike TTS on the Quattro Plant Kawasaki ZX-10R.
The 32-year-old will ride a similar machine in JG Speedfit livery in the superbike plus Kawasakis in the Supersport races and the stocker event. He will sit out the Lightweight race, which he won in 2013.
“I feel sharper and it’s definitely helped doing some short circuits before,” he said after finishing third in the opening Supersport race at the North West. “We’ve been top 10 consistently here and got a podium. The island is obviously a little different to here, but we’ve got some things to try and I’m feeling good.”
James Hillier ‘I FEEL SHARPER AND IT’S DEFINITELY HELPED DOING SOME SHORT CIRCUIT RACING’