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.

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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.

"It's a totally different feeling racing at Macau than it is anywhere else - it's a scary place to race around and people think it's only a holiday race - which it is to an extent - but when you're out there racing you've got to ride hard to get a result.
"It's always an enjoyable experience going to Macau but at the same time you're glad when you're on the plane back home."

Thompson's best result at Macau was fifth in 2005 and he hopes to at least finish inside the top eight next Sunday.

"I had an empty feeling inside last year after the bike blew up so hopefully I'll have a better run this time," he said.

"A top eight finish would be a good result because there's a quality entry at Macau and you're up against some top riders and bikes.

"I rode a Honda before for Uel Duncan over there and the bike I have this time is much the same, so we should be okay."

A stunning line-up has been secured for the event including William and Michael Dunlop, who are making their Macau debuts, plus Bruce Anstey, McGuinness, Ian Hutchinson, Conor Cummins, Michael Rutter, Matt Llewellyn and Gary Johnson.

Thompson said: "I think William could go well at Macau because it should suit his style and we know Michael is capable of a big result too, but the main thing is that everyone treats the place with respect and comes back safe."