Lisburn’s Carl Phillips is eager to seize the opportunity to ride for top British Supersport team Gearlink Kawasaki at this weekend’s JAS Finlay Sunflower Trophy meeting at Bishopscourt.
Phillips punched above his weight this year as the 22-year-old claimed a magnificent runner-up finish in the British Superstock 600 Championship on the Sandown Racing Kawasaki.
Operating on a shoestring budget and working from the back of a Transit van, the young Ulster rider went agonisingly close to the title, losing out by only 13 points to South African rider Jordan Weaving.
Phillips’ performances didn’t go unnoticed and he has been granted the chance to join fellow Northern Ireland rider and British Supersport prospect Andrew Irwin in the Gearlink team at the Co Down circuit.
“It’s a great opportunity for me and I want to make the most of it,” he said.
“Gearlink offered me the chance to ride their Supersport bike and I couldn’t turn it down. My sponsors gave me permission to go ahead with it and now I want to do it justice.
“I’m going out there to try and win – that’s got to be the aim,” he added. “I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully I can get a feel for the bike quickly and everything goes smoothly.
“It won’t be easy because Andrew will be hard to beat and then you’ve got David Allingham and all the Irish championship guys: I think Robert Kennedy and Nikki Coates will go well and young Aaron Clifford as well.”
Phillips has examined the possibility of moving into the British Supersport class in 2017 but says pursuing a ride in the Superstock 1000 Championship may be a more viable alternative.
“Everything comes down to budget and I had looked at some British Supersport rides, but the amount of money being talked about is huge,” he said.
“We put everything into this season and at the moment I might not even have the budget to go racing next year.
“For five lads to go over to the British championship with a Transit van, win two races [at Brands Hatch Indy and Knockhill] and get five podiums against these big, well-funded teams is something special, but I never really got anything out of it – I never picked up any new sponsors and it was my old loyal sponsors who kept everything ticking over.
“We had a place in Ian Lougher’s awning and he gave us guidance and helped out with our bike set-up, so ideally I’d love to stay with Lougher if I could get a sponsor on board,” Phillips added.
“It might be that Superstock 1000 is the way to go next year because it’s actually cheaper than racing in the British Supersport Championship, but everything will come down to money.
“All in all, it was a fantastic year and if it hadn’t been for two DNFs we’d actually have won the championship, but that’s racing.
“If you’d told me at the start of the season I’d win two races and finish second in the championship I’d have laughed at you.”
British Superbike riders Glenn Irwin and Christian Iddon are among the top names, with Danny Buchan also returning in his quest for a third successive Sunflower crown.
Practice gets underway at Bishopscourt on Friday from 9am with a 14-race card taking centre stage on Saturday.