By Kyle White
Northern Ireland rider Stephen Thompson is preparing to embark on the long haul to southern China for the eighth time to compete in the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix.
Thompson will join Isle of Man TT hero John McGuinness in the Roadhouse SMT Honda team at the 45th edition of the famous international event, which brings the curtain down on the 2011 season.
The Ulster ace says the unique appeal of racing around the 3.8-mile Guia street circuit is what entices him back to Macau year after year.
Twelve months ago Thompson was battling for a top six finish when the engine of his MSS Kawasaki expired, forcing him out of the race.
He was again due to ride a Kawasaki for Nick Morgan this year until the deal fell through at the eleventh hour, but a local bar owner in Macau stepped in to help fund the trip and Thompson will ride the Honda Superbike raced by Gary Johnson at the Isle of Man TT in June.
“I wasn't going up until the last minute because I was supposed to be riding a Kawasaki for Nick Morgan, but he pulled out and that left me without a bike,” Thompson said.
“But then a guy who owns a motorbike-themed bar over in Macau, Ciaran Carruthers, pulled me out of a hole and I think he's giving John McGuinness a bit of sponsorship too.
“I met him last year and he's really into his bikes so I managed to get something sorted out.
“It's the Honda that Gary Johnson rode to third at the TT and I tested it at Kirkistown when I came back from holiday,” added Thompson.
“I've a few handling issues with it and I'm 80 per cent comfortable on it, but there was no point trying to sort it out here because Macau is such a unique circuit, so we'll see how it goes when we get there.