Irwin on the pace at Ulster Grand Prix
The 25-year-old Gearlink Kawasaki star was right on the tail of race one-two finishers Lee Johnston and William Dunlop on the opening laps of the Supersport race, but a small technical problem with the bike meant he lost the tow and dropped back into an enthralling battle for third with multiple TT winners Ian Hutchinson and Bruce Anstey.
Any one of the three could take the final podium place but Irwin was determined it would be him and passed Hutchinson on the outside at the flat-out right hander before ‘Wheelers’ to show the Yamaha rider he meant business. The pair swapped places a couple of more times before the end of the race but it was Irwin who was in front on the final lap to take his first Supersport podium on his debut in the class at Dundrod.
“Getting on the podium was amazing,” he said. “It was my first time on a 600 at Dundrod and I did a lap at over 128.4 mph. It doesn’t get any better.
“I felt brilliant after the race and passing ‘Hutchy’ at the flat right before Wheelers during the race certainly felt good. To finish ahead of road race legends Ian Hutchinson and Bruce Anstey is pretty special!”
At the front of the field the battle between eventual winner Johnston and Dunlop went all the way to the line with Johnston smashing the lap record as he took the win by 0.039 seconds from Dunlop.
In the second Supersport race it turned into a six-way scrap between Johnston, Irwin, Dunlop, Hutchinson, Dean Harrison and Anstey. At the head of things it was Johnston and Irwin and going onto the fourth lap, the Carrick rider moved into the lead at the end of the start-finish straight, only for the race to be red-flagged after Scottish rider Andy Lawson crashed at Deer’s Leap.
“I was comfortable in the race behind Lee and actually I did my best lap of the weekend on lap four and had taken the lead in the race when it was stopped. I really felt as though I could have won it but all that doesn’t matter when the news of Andy’s death came through,” said Irwin.
The result was taken at the end of the third lap with Johnston declared the winner giving him his third win of the day, having earlier won a thrilling Superstock race from Peter Hickman by 0.09 seconds, with Michael Dunlop third. Irwin’s final outing of the day was in the Supertwins and the fastest man in qualifying on the Cookstown BE Kawasaki was relishing the challenge before the rain came on.
“Once the rain came on when we were on the grid but the boys knew I had no interest. I don’t think there’s a lot to gain winning a wet road race. You don’t want your first international road race win in the wet and anyway I can’t jeopardise my day job in the British Championships by taking unnecessary chances.”
In the end, he finished fourth behind race winner Derek Magee who was delighted with his first UGP win.
What about next year? “I’ll be back, but hopefully on a superbike,” said the former Larne Grammar pupil. “What I want is to be racing in the British Superbike championship in a competitive Superbike team that will be able to support me in the two international road races.
“There has been contact from a few teams already so I’m hopeful it all slots into place. I firmly believe that I can come back to the Ulster Grand Prix and be competitive on a Superbike.”