The new Irish road racing season roars into life this weekend with the KDM Hire Cookstown 100 in Co. Tyrone.
Practice will take place on Friday around the 2.1-mile Orritor course, and roads are now closed.
The line-up is headed by Derek Sheils on the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing Suzuki, who won the sole Open Superbike race last year. Dubliner Sheils will also compete on the Roadhouse Macau Racing Yamaha in the Supersport class.
He remains unbeaten in the Superbike class at Cookstown since 2016, clinching five victories in a row to underline his dominance at team boss John Burrows’ home meeting.
The laidback Irish rider may be the hot favourite for more Superbike success, but Sheils is at ease with the weight of expectation as he bids to maintain his winning run.
“I don’t put any pressure on myself and I just treat Cookstown like any other race,” he said.
“It’s a big meeting for John and the team because it’s their home race, but I just stay chilled and it we’ve got the pace, well and good, but if we don’t then we’ve done our best.
“But if the conditions are fine then I don’t think we’ll be too far away on Saturday.”
His opposition includes last year’s man of the meeting, Adam McLean, on the McAdoo Kawasaki machines. McLean has claimed three victories in the Supersport class at the Irish short circuit meetings and comes into the event in excellent form.
‘Mullingar Missile’ Derek McGee is also entered and the triple Irish champion will have a busy schedule as he competes in the Open, Supersport, Supertwin and Moto3 races.
Martin Jones Racing’s Michael Sweeney is another top southern Irish rider who is also a leading contender in the Open, Supersport and Supertwin classes, while Magherafelt’s Paul Jordan will get his campaign underway at Cookstown, where he will ride the Alistair Russell 600 Yamaha.
A host of newcomers is headed by former Senior Manx Grand Prix winner Tom Weeden, who has replaced Davey Todd in John Burrows’ team, while Adrian Harrison – brother of TT and Ulster GP winner Dean – also makes his debut on a Kawasaki ZX-10R.
Lincolnshire’s Guy Martin held a provisional entry for the Classic race but the former top international road racer will miss the event.
A reduced race programme sees 12 races on Saturday (roads close at 10am), while four races are planned on Friday evening following practice, including the Open Superbike event.