A record number of Kerry motorcycle racers are set to contest this year’s Dunlop Masters Irish National Championship.
When the championship gets underway in late June as many as 20 Kerry-based riders will on the grid.
If that is not enough, there will Kerry representation in the road racing scene in Northern Ireland and on the support grids of the British Superbike Championship across the water.
While the early morning running during the official test was hampered by wet weather most of the local riders did manage their first track sessions since last September.
SUPERBIKE PRO AND SUPERBIKE CUP
Tralee man Emmet O’Grady is a former Irish Supersport Pro champion and will race for the Dublin-based TAG Racing Team for the 2021 season. His target: the Superbike Pro title – the highest accolade in Irish short circuit racing.
He rode his new Honda Fireblade CBR 1000 for the first time during a private test session a few days before the season launch but sat out the main event as he awaits some extra components to finish the build. It is currently set up on standard brakes, suspension and electronics.
Nevertheless, his first thoughts on the new Fireblade were very positive.
“It is an absolute super bike, great chassis, feels so nimble through the corners,” he said. “It feels so positive from the first crack of the throttle, it is a huge step forward and has so much potential.”
As well as tackling the full Dunlop Masters Superbike series he has a deal in place to contest selected rounds of the Northern Irish Championship and at least three rounds of the British National Superstock Championship.
His brother Evan will return to racing after a one-year absence and will race a Suzuki GSXR 1000 in Superbike Cup class.
“He wanted to get up to speed for the season as fast as possible. He went out on wet and dry sessions to get the time in on the bike which should stand to him,” said Emmett of his younger brother.
Dean O’Grady from Ballyduff, no relation to Emmet or Evan, is another expected frontrunner in Superbike Cup races, a regular class podium finisher on his Kawasaki ZX10R.
SUPERSPORT PRO AND SUPERSPORT CUP
While not technically a Kerryman, Andrew Murphy can trace his family roots to Ballybunion.
Murphy will return to the Letterkenny-based PCRS fold for the season ahead, as he returns to Yamaha power after a year on a self-prepared Triumph. His target is reclaiming the Supersport Pro title he last held in 2019.
“I only got out in the afternoon as the morning was wet. But the bike was flying, it just needs a bit more tweaking with the suspension and we are good to go racing,” said the Mountcollins racer.
The Supersport Cup has signs of Kerry domination too. Tralee’s Robert O’Connell was second in the Masters’ standings to Jamie Collins last year.
“The day started very wet and I sat out the first three sessions as I had no seat time since September 2020,” he said, “After lunch, the sun came out so I started the first of our test sessions, I had new forks, bottom yolks, brakes and gearing so I chipped away and made changes every session to see could I find a base setting for the year. Fitness-wise I feel good, but the body was stiff. All in all, I came away happy, although the lap times are down on last year but with 38 laps complete with no issues it was a step in the right direction for June 26.”
Anthony O’Carroll has taken a slightly different path from his county men.
He will race his usual Kawaski ZX 6R for the short circuit season but he has also struck a deal with Maynooth Cycles to ride their Suzuki SV 650 on two road racing events that will run in Northern Ireland later this summer.
“The bike [Kawaski ZX 6R] feels great I’m a lot more confident and comfortable in my riding,” he said “The biggest advantage this year is my fitness. It has really improved, all thanks to Jonathan Silles Coaching the man is top class, I couldn’t recommend him enough! I’m really looking forward to this season and hopefully take it to the next level.”
O’Carroll hopes to contest the Armoy Road Races which will take place in County Antrim on July 30 and 31 and the Cookstown 100 Road Race in September as well as the Dunlop Masters.
Tralee’s Darragh Crean is the man to watch in the Production Twin Class.
He took two class wins at Mondello Park last September but with long-time class yardstick Mark McGauran set to move to the Superbike class, alongside Emmet O’Grady in the TAG squad, Crean will start as the class favourite this season.
“Saturday went very well, just getting more comfortable on the bike and working on my race pace,” said Crean.
Samantha Martin is also ready to make her mark in the Production Twins Class this year. The Tarbert resident made her race debut in March 2019 and sat out the severely disrupted 2020 season.
She took to the Mondello track for the first time this year, first on the Bank Holiday Monday and then on the following Saturday and professed herself ready for the season ahead.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It went so much better than the first weekend. I am really starting to get a feel for the bike again – it took a while after being off it for a long time.”
As well as a strong presence on the Irish scene Kerry riders are also highly visible overseas.
Farranfore-based Kevin Coyne is set to graduate to British National Superstock 600 after a full season competing in the British Junior Supersport championship last year.
He has acquired a Kawasaki Ninja 636 for the year ahead and with the opening round of the British Super Bike championship scheduled for Oulton Park in late June, he used the Irish season launch to get up to speed.
“My first impression of the new bike is that It is fast,” he said. “It really took a bit of time to relax on it and with the weather wet in the morning, we decided to wait until it dried. It took a couple of sessions to relax a bit and a few tweaks on suspension we were able to do just under one-minute laps.”
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