By Barry Russell
For the fourth year in a row, roads racer Gary Johnson, recently signed to HM Plant Honda for 2012, is spending part of the British winter in the warmth of Thailand.
Johnson's idea of a holiday is apparently not one of soaking up the sun. Since finishing fifth in the Macau Grand Prix three weeks ago for IGT Suzuki by TAS, he has been busy on track at Thai circuits Bira International and Kaeng Krachan, helping local racers with bike set up and lowering unofficial lap records on other racers' bikes.
He is now looking at the possibility of entering the final two rounds of the Motorcycle Mag Superbike Championship on 24-25 December at Bira.
Finding a bike to ride is not a straightforward business in Thailand, where heavy import duties make bringing in race bikes impossibly expensive. In 2010 he entered and won the last round of the R2M Championship on a borrowed 2004 Kawasaki ZX-10R and is currently testing a Suzuki GSX-R750, on loan from Norwegian racer Narve Hoel, who runs a GSX-R1000 at the front of the country's second-tier SB2 series.
Johnson faces stiff competition in the form of Panadda Racing's 'Tingnote' Tithipong Warakorn, who is a class above the rest of Thailand's domestic superbike racers on a very fast Honda CBR 1000RR.
"I would really have liked to be on a full spec superbike, as Tingnote is quick," he explained. "Nobody here is going to lend me that kind of bike, so I'll have to ride the wheels off the 750 to make any kind of impression. Corner speed counts for a lot at Bira, but it does have a couple of straights where I'll be at a big disadvantage.
"Whatever happens it will be better than sitting around in England stuffing my face with turkey and mince pies!"