The finale of the 2022 Dunlop Masters Superbike Championship could not have been more tense as the title Shoot Out went to the last corner, of the last lap, of the final race of the season. In an incredible finish, Thomas O’Grady pulled off the overtake of the season to change the destiny of the title in the final seconds of the season and become Dunlop Masters Superbike Champion for the first time.
Dubliner O’Grady on his Clear Energy Yamaha entered the final three races of the year with a tiny three point advantage over former champion Derek Sheils on the Roadhouse Macau BMW. Third placed Alan Kenny was an outside bet for the title on his R1 but the Cavan man would have needed both of his rivals to fail to finish at least one race to give him any real hope.
The first race of three began with O’Grady leading from Sheils and Kenny with AKR Thomas Bourne Racing’s Josh Elliott on the move towards the leaders following a slow start. Heading out onto the International loop on lap two, Sheils got up the inside of O’Grady to take the lead as Elliott moved past Kenny. The leaders stayed nose to tail for the next three laps before O’Grady pounced at Maxus corner at the start of lap five to retake the advantage. Over the closing laps a three way fight developed, as Kenny faded away in fourth, leaving O’Grady to take the win from Sheils and Elliott with the top three separated by a quarter of a second at the flag.
Saturday’s win meant that O’Grady took an eight point lead into Sunday’s second race but he soon found himself wishing he had more points in hand as he dropped back to fourth behind the Yamaha of Kenny. Up front Sheils and Elliott were swapping the lead and by the time O’Grady got past Kenny and into his stride he was too far back to close the gap, especially when the top two were busy breaking the lap record on consecutive laps. At the flag it was Sheils who took the win by less than half a second from new lap record holder Elliott, with O’Grady two seconds behind in third. Kenny finished fourth to end his challenge for top spot but the Cavan man had done enough to secure third in the standings. Sheils victory gave him a championship lead of a single point to take the title chase to the final race of the season for the first time in the series history.
The last race had the large Mondello Park attendance on the edges of their seats from the start, as they knew that whoever finished ahead, Sheils or O’Grady, would be champion. O’Grady got a great start from the second row of the grid and almost got by Sheils as Elliott led out of Maxus corner. The top three then circulated within millimetres of each other for the first five laps with their pace once again challenging the lap record.
With less than three laps left O’Grady made his move past Elliott under braking for Turn 7A and having had success there tried the same on Sheils the next time around. This time his rival fought back at 7B to retake the lead leaving O’Grady still needing to find a way to get ahead. On the final time through 7A and 7B the Dubliner tried once more, but his Wicklow rival once again re took the place, leading the commentators to surmise that the battle for the championship was over. O’Grady however had other ideas and stuck close to Sheils through paddock bend and up to Southside Motor Factors corner for the final time. Despite Sheils defending, O’Grady somehow found the room to stick his Yamaha on the inside of the BMW and emerged ahead to win the race and the championship on the run to the flag.
On the podium O’Grady was emotional as he thanked all of his team for the work they had put in over the past few seasons, while Sheils was extremely gracious in defeat, as he commended Thomas for the way he had won the race and said that the 2022 Masters had been one of the most enjoyable championship battles he had been involved in throughout his career. O’Grady and Sheils were joined for the podium celebrations by Elliott who, wary of getting too involved in the championship battle, was happy to take third place in the final race following a photo finish with Sheils.
The Superbike Cup battle was effectively ended when series leader Jamie Collins crashed out of Saturday’s first race. His non-finish meant that Andrew Whearty did not have to beat him in the remaining races to win the title, so the Meath resident simply followed the Corkman home in the final two encounters to take the championship.
Earlier in the weekend Elliott had secured the Supersport crown for AKR Thomas Bourne Racing, despite having missed the first two championship events. The brand new team were understandably delighted to finish their maiden season with a Supersport championship victory to go with their new Superbike lap record. Kerry based Jack O’Grady won the Supersport Cup title, but not without a fight, as Wicklow’s Dean Lacey won all three races to close the gap down to just four points at the end.
The Superbike Champion, Thomas O’Grady, had also collected another championship title earlier on Sunday as he took home the Principal Insurance Supertwin crown on his NWR Aprilia. Brian McCormack took all three Supertwin wins on his Global Robots Aprilia ahead of impressive class newcomer and Masters Championship sponsor, Darragh Crean, on his Nedar Heat machine. Crean’s impressive performances gave him the Supertwin championship runner up spot.
In the DM Groundworks and FJS Plant Junior races, Moto 1 champion Reuben Sherman Boyd wrapped up his season with his 100% win record intact as he took three more race wins. Rossi Dobson took the Junior Supersport category despite breaking his arm on Saturday and failing to score a point in the last two races. In the end Dobson took the title from Jack Whearty by eleven points, exactly the amount he had scored in Saturday’s first encounter.
Other riders to become champions were Pre-Injection class winners Noel Dunne Jnr. and Kenneth O’Gorman, Moto 400 stalwart Damien Horgan, first time Classic Superbike Champion Alan Tierney and Sidecar winners Dylan Lynch and Aaron Galligan.
One of the more impressive title winners was teenager Nathan McGouran who made a return to the Principal Insurance Production Twin class following a two year break. The Dublin youngster took that title and also added the Future Stars championship, for riders aged twenty or under, to pick up the €3,000 top prize provided by DM Groundworks, FJS, Sorcon and the Motorcycle Racers Supporters Club. Despite not competing at the final two events, due to injury, A Jay Carey took the second place prize of €1,500 with Reuben Sherman Boyd taking third and €500.
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