Glenn Irwin is aiming follow up his stunning debut at last year’s Macau Grand Prix by challenging for another major victory to add to his North West 200 Superbike crown.
Irwin won the blue riband race on the North Coast in May at his first attempt on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati, getting the better of fellow Carrick man and all-time record-holder Alastair Seeley on a nail-biting final lap.
The British Superbike prospect, who also celebrated a maiden win at Silverstone this year, was in the mix for the podium at Macau in 2016.
However, he was ruled out with a lap to go after developing a problem with the Panigale as he chased eventual winner Peter Hickman, Michael Rutter and Martin Jessopp.
Irwin vowed to return for another crack at the famous Chinese race and after signing a new BSB deal with Paul Bird’s team for a third successive year, he has made good on his promise and will tackle the daunting 3.8-mile Guia course once more as practice gets underway at 23:30 GMT tonight.
The 27-year-old has the benefit of a year’s experience under his belt and Irwin says he has victory in his sights.
“You go into every race with the same aim and that’s to try and win,” Irwin said.
“Macau is no different in that respect but it’s a road race and first you’ve got to go there and respect the place. It was all new to me last year and obviously having that experience will be an advantage this time.
“I’m really looking forward to it and although everyone treats it like a bit of a holiday race, everyone is there to win. I’ll get a feel for the place again, suss it all out and we’ll go from there,” he added.
“Last year, we qualified seventh and in the race I was about eight tenths back behind and making time when we had a problem.
“Minimum, the podium was on so if we could do that in year one, then we’ve got to be thinking about the win this time.”
His main opposition includes two-time winner Hickman, who is gunning for a third straight win at Macau, and Michael Rutter, who has won the race a record eight times. Both line-up on the Bathams SMT BMW machines, while three-time runner-up Martin Jessopp is also BMW-mounted.
Northern Ireland’s Lee Johnston returns to the event and will ride the carbon fibre BMW HP4, while Gary Johnson is another strong contender on the Lee Hardy Racing/Briggs Kawasaki.
John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson miss out through injury, but the entry includes Ulster Grand Prix Superbike winner and Dundrod lap record holder Dean Harrison on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki, plus Manx riders Conor Cummins (Padgett’s Honda) and Dan Kneen (Penz13.com BMW).
Derek Sheils leads the charge for John Burrows’ Cookstown B.E. Racing team on the Suzuki GSX-R1000, while Saintfield’s Davy Morgan has made the trip to the Far East for the sixth time after making his debut in 2012.
Skerries man and Irish National road racing regular Michael Sweeney is also entered on the MJR BMW along with Ireland’s Steve Heneghan.
The line-up also includes Ivan Lintin, Dan Hegarty, David Johnson, Horst Saiger and Dan Cooper.
The race will take place over 12 laps on Saturday and is scheduled to start at 07:40 GMT.