Lee Johnston Exclusive: 2023 Plans, Road Racing & YouTube success

Lee Johnston is one of Road Racing’s biggest names, he has won races at the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix & Isle of Man TT. The 33 year old from Maguiresbridge has also won the British National Superstock 600cc Championship in 2008, since 2019 he has competed in the British Supersport Championship with a number of wins and podiums in the class.
Lee Johnston Exclusive: 2023 Plans, Road Racing & YouTube success

Before the MCUI announcement on the cancellation of road racing in Northern Ireland, we spoke to him about 2023 plans, adapting back to Road Racing in 2022 & documenting his racing career on YouTube. 

We were lucky enough to chat with him about his 2023 plans, adapting back to Road Racing in 2022 & documenting his racing career on YouTube. 

2023 preparations are well underway for yourself and Ashcourt Racing, you’ve got a couple of new additions to your bike line up this year with 2022 Honda Fireblades used by Glenn Irwin during his Road Racing campaign, are you excited to get onboard them?

“The preparations are going really well, and of course changing bikes is the main priority. People just think from the outside looking in just think we go and buy the bikes and that is it ready! They don’t see all the work we’ve to do from selling our previous machines to then generate the money for spare parts on the new machines. There are a lot of things that have to fall into place for that to happen and even now, we are ordering a lot of different spares and changing things on Honda to just suit me and get me as comfortable as possible.”

“I suppose the main thing is making sure that we are prepared, because of the road racing schedule you only really get one shot at things at the North West 200 or the TT. Getting everything prepared with spare parts for the team means that we can fix things straight away as the racing schedule at road racing events is so packed. It isn’t exactly exciting work, but all this needs to be done!”

Johnston picked up his 2023 machines from Honda Racing UK at the end of the 2022 season.

Going back to Honda machinery for the first time since 2018, what was the reason for the change from BMW back to Honda?

“We bought the ‘newer’ spec BMW at the end of 2019 and ran it at the Macau Grand Prix. We finished 5th at that race and then 2020 comes along & literally we didn’t get to run the bikes until the North West 200 in 2022!”

After a strong first outing, the pandemic stopped Lee from using his new BMW machinery on the roads as he focused on the British Supersport Championship in 2020 & 2021 before Road Racing returned in 2022.

“I think that is what bit us in the ass at the TT last year, we didn’t use the BMW machines for over two years and the fact we had gremlins with the electronics, was very frustrating. So I am going to make a point this year with the Hondas to ride them more, rather than just doing British Supersport and then expecting to jump on the stock/superbike at a road race and there to be no problems, so we are making a conscious effort to ride them more this season."

Do you think it is going to take much to adapt from BMW to Honda again?

“No not really, you can change everything in terms of handlebar & seat position to get comfortable. Once you do a test or two, the bikes start to feel like yours and becomes much easier. I am looking forward to riding them - I’ve literally just sat on the bikes in the workshop just to see how the bodywork is and all seems really well. So we are just looking ahead now to getting the bikes out to Spain for some testing.”

Many see Johnston’s best chance of success in the Supersport class with his Yamaha R6.

This is the bike that delivered Johnston his maiden TT win in 2019, also bagging him wins at the North West 200, Scarborough & in British Championship. 

The priority I assume for this year will be the Supersport bike that you’ve had so much success with on the roads & short circuit, any changes with that?

“We are continuing with the Yamaha R6 and realistically it is the best chance I have of winning another TT. We have so much data gathered from using the R6 since 2019 and it just makes logical sense to keep using it, but we are looking at doing more road races in Europe this year, just to try something new instead of the same old pattern of British Championship, North West 200 & then the TT etc. It becomes a bit repetitive, so I am speaking to the organisers of a few road races in Europe to tie a deal together to get out there and see the fans which is pretty cool.”

Lee also has a YouTube Channel that has gained a lot of popularity for the insight it goes into for running a top level motorcycle team for the roads and British Championship. The channel currently has over 23,000 subscribers:

“Going to races in Europe would allow me to make a vlog for people back home to see what it is like out there and that would hopefully bring more fans to these events in the future. Which is a nice thing to help the sport grow in both ways as we see a lot of European fans travel across to the North West 200 and the TT.”

 Johnston has raced previously at the German road racing event in Frohburg back in 2015, winning the Joey Dunlop Superbike race. He also expressed a desire to race at the former Grand Prix circuit Imatra in Finland. 

“I absolutely loved racing over in Germany, especially Neil, my mechanic - he was in his element as all they did was drink beer and eat sausages, so he thought it was brilliant! The organisers of Frohburg put together such a great event, the track is really good and the fans are crazy as well - I think there were 20,000 people which is just mega.”

What the YouTube channel has done for Lee has allowed him to show every side of the sport, the highs and the lows. The authenticity and rawness he brings to his videos is why it has become such a success with fans around the world. but he admits it started as a bit of joke:

“I don’t really know how it happened to be honest, my partner Christie just kept saying to me ‘you should just start vlogging’ and I was quite hesitant but we started it. I had no clue about videoing and Christie had no clue about editing, so it started off rough and I am not saying it isn’t rough now but people just seem to love it. As long as people continue to enjoy what we are doing and the content we put out, I’ll keep doing it for as long as possible!”

Lee also admits that he has been fortunate to attract some new sponsors for Ashcourt Racing thanks to the success of his YouTube Channel:

“It is funny, because these sponsors contact you saying they’d love to come onboard with the channel and I’m politely trying to tell them I don’t want to force advertisements for my viewers, but they’ve been really supportive in understanding that racing is my job and in part, the sponsors are apart of that as well - but my first thought is always making sure my fans can get something out of this if a sponsor is involved in a video. Because I am not going to stand and tell people what brand of water to drink etc, I am very cautious of that happening with the channel if I want to stay real and true to who I am. But if someone rocks up with a big wad of cash, my morals are out the window straight away haha!” He says with a laugh & smile.

Looking back at 2022, it was the first year back road racing after 3 years due to the Pandemic, how did you find it overall?

“There was a lot more sh*t than good in my opinion.” Johnston started his 2022 campaign off with a win in the Supersport class at the North West 200, beating Davey Todd in an epic battle. Attention soon turned to the Isle of Man TT as he was looking to add another Supersport win to his maiden victory in 2019. But as he explains, things didn’t go to plan during the TT fortnight due to a number of circumstances & an unfortunate eye issue that forced him to miss the Senior TT.

“It was f**king hard, the last thing you want to do is speak into a camera. You work so hard and put everything into making your goals happen & they don’t because of things out of your control - like what happened with my eyes at TT & other sh*t things. You don’t want to tell people about it, I literally didn’t want to leave my motorhome, never mind telling thousands of people on camera about how I was feeling. But I suppose you can’t pick one without the other, when things are going well it is so easy to vlog and video everything. So when you put yourself out there on the internet, you’ve to deal with both sides of it.”

Lee was very open when explaining about the struggles & disappointments of racing especially as he documents it himself with his YouTube channel:

“We are quite protected in our sport, We can pick and choose which journalist we speak to. But it wouldn’t be fair to just film all the good stuff, like ‘oh look at me winning at the North West 200’ and then not showing the disappointments of the TT. Honestly, the support I got out of the harder times was just amazing. I try to be like that on social media as well, especially for younger kids as the world is so full of sh*t with Instagram, Twitter & TikTok. Everyone has tough days out there and I think it helps to show that in Motorbike racing there are a lot more difficult days than good ones.”

A positive that came from the 2022 Road Racing campaign for Lee & his team was in the Supertwin class with the new Aprilia RS 660. He achieved podiums at the North West 200 & TT and is excited to see if the improvements can push the bike further in 2023:

“Realistically, we were racing on a £12,000-13,000 converted road bike compared to the more established Kawasaki & Paton machines. So we’ve put some more money into it for this season and we are currently adding more to the bike to make it more competitive, the developments are nowhere near finished yet, but they will be in March-April time for testing. We’ve also been helped with the changes to the lightweight class rules regarding extra weight as it was nearly 10KG heavier than other lightweight bikes.”

Hopefully we are in a genuine position to fight at the front as last year we got lucky at the TT with Michael Dunlop & Jamie Coward breaking down in the race and that handed us a podium. The bike has a lot of potential and hopefully with all the work we are doing, it is going to get there with it. It would be quite cool to win on an Aprilia around the TT as well.”

We can’t let you go without speaking about the beautiful Honda RC45 you raced at the Classic TT last year, is it the same plan for this season?

“That’s the plan, basically we had a 250cc sitting ready to go last year but then the classic TT regulations were released and it allowed an RC45 to be raced. So my boss immediately said ‘let’s do that instead’ and we had nothing sorted! It was a bit of a mad rush to get everything for the bike, we had to get wheels sent off to get crack tested & we had no springs for the suspension… The fact that the bike did more than four laps was amazing. My boss bet me that it wouldn’t do more than four laps, so I decided to take it easy for the first three laps and then when it got to the fourth lap I thought: ‘I wonder if it’s got a bit of potential’ and I realised that the bike has so much potential.”

In one of Lee’s recent vlogs, he went to pick up another RC45 bought by his boss to allow them to equip their current RC45 with more spare parts for a full effort at this years Classic TT:

“He has quite the collection of classic bikes, he doesn’t really have interest in my current bikes - even though he pays for them! But he is always ringing me up saying about getting bits for the RC45 and we’ve bought another one to use this year. We are a bit more prepared now so if we could get anywhere near the front or on the podium it would be a mega result. Because it is a genuine 750cc compared to some of the other bikes that race at the classic, as they have modern parts fitted, we just want it to look & sound authentic as possible. The fans loved seeing it in the paddock & around the track as well which is so cool.

Lee also confirmed that he is also planning to ride his Ashcourt Racing Honda 250cc at the Classic TT as well.

Finally, looking at the British Championship for this season - What do you think is achievable?

“I had so much enjoyment being able to come back to race in British Supersport and also be competitive. There are only a few road racers that can actually do that, so it justifies when we do race at short circuit level that can be competitive at the front in race and score podiums & race wins, that it isn’t actually a waste of time, money & effort."

“I do enjoy it, but I don’t know what is going to happen this year as we are trying to get sponsorships to fund the British Championship as it is so expensive to do a full season of racing. If that falls into place, we are going to do as many rounds as possible and then do some Road Racing in Europe like I’ve mentioned & also some Road Races that don’t clash with the BSB calendar.”

Make sure to Subscribe to Lee’s YouTube channel & also give him a follow on social media as well

Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/@Leejohnston

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/lee_johnston13/?hl=en

Full video interview on Youtube - https://youtu.be/heBVhcf_mW8

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