By Kyle White: Belfast Newsletter.
Images Derek Wilson.
Top Irish road racer Derek Sheils and Northern Ireland team Burrows Engineering/RK Racing have parted company on amicable terms after a highly successful four-year association.
Sheils won the Irish and Ulster Superbike titles last year on the Dungannon outfit’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 and finished fourth in the Superbike race at the North West 200.
The Dubliner had his last ride for ex-racer John Burrows’ team at the Macau Grand Prix in November where was involved in a multi-bike pile-up, fortunately escaping serious injury.
Sheils has become established as the man to beat at the Irish national road races in the Superbike class in recent seasons. He won the Irish Superbike roads crown in 2016 and again last season, and also clinched the Ulster Superbike title in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
The 37-year-old chalked up almost 30 victories, predominantly in the Superbike class, although Sheils finally broke his Supersport duck last year, edging out fellow Republic of Ireland rider Michael Sweeney to win at his home race at the Skerries 100 on the Roadhouse Macau Yamaha.
Team owner Burrows told the News Letter the split was “completely amicable” and said he wished Sheils the best of luck for the future.
“There is no ill-feeling whatsoever and Derek and myself remain good friends, so I wish him all the best for the future,” said Burrows.
“He was unsure of his plans this year and I gave Derek a deadline of last Friday to decide if he would continue with us in 2020 because I have commitments with sponsors and we need to put a team together.
“He wasn’t able to give me an answer so we decided to go our separate ways this year. We enjoyed a lot of success together and won a lot of races.
“Derek was a quality rider and over these past few years he became the man to beat at the Irish nationals on our Superbike. He was also capable of running at the sharp end at the internationals and proved it with a fine ride to fourth at the North West 200 last year,” added Burrows.
“He also earned an international podium at the Ulster Grand Prix in the Supertwin class in 2016 and I would personally like to thank Derek on behalf of the team for his efforts over these past four years.”
Burrows said he was disappointed the partnership had come to an end but refused to rule out the possibility of working with Sheils again in the future.
“I raced against Derek at Clubmans level on the circuits and later we had some good races together on the roads as well. We became friends when he joined the team and it almost feels like a separation now that it’s coming to an end.
“We wish him well and if the opportunity arises again in the future, I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of working with Derek again.”
Burrows has confirmed he will still run a two-man line-up this year. He has already signed one rider for 2020 and is currently working on a replacement for Sheils.
“I have one rider signed for this season and I’ve been in talks with a few others,” said Burrows, who also fielded Englishman Tom Weeden alongside Sheils in 2019.
“I hope to be in a position to make a full announcement on our plans soon.”
The departing Sheils paid tribute to the Burrows Engineering Racing team but said he has “no concrete plans” for the season ahead.
“I’ve no concrete plans yet for 2020 and I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do,” he said.
“I’ve had four years with Burrows Racing and we had an awful lot of wins together at the Irish nationals and some good runs at the internationals as well.
“They were a good team to be a part of and there were no issues along the way. I want to thank John Burrows for his support over these last four years and all the lads in the team. We had a good run together and I enjoyed it.”
Reflecting on some of his best results, Sheils said his fourth place in the Superbike race at the North West 200 in 2019 was among his personal highlights.
“I had a good fourth place at the North West 200 last year and we also had a couple of fifths in the Superbike class at the Ulster Grand Prix,” he said.
“We had a lot of good races at the nationals as well and some brilliant races at the Tandragee 100 over the past two years, with myself, Derek McGee and Michael Sweeney having a great race last year and also in 2018, when we had a great battle with Dan Kneen.
“Those were fantastic races to be a part of and Tandragee is an old school road race, so that made it even more special. I also did my fastest ever lap at 132.041mph at the ‘Ulster’ in 2017, so there’s a been a lot of good moments and it’s been a good four years with John and the lads.”