North West 200 race fans will, after all, be treated to a full strength Kawasaki line-up, featuring the stunning new Ninja Superbike.
Reigning British Superbike Privateer champion Gary Mason is set to ride to the rescue as a top class replacement for injured team-mate Simon Andrews in next month's Relentless International North West race.
Final details of the May 15 line-up and race organisation will be revealed at a Stormont press conference tonight.
Lichfield-based rider Mason (30) last night lodged his entry ahead of that on his MSS Colchester Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R Superbike.
And, in keeping with the Ninja theme, Mason has undergone a brutal martial arts training regime to prepare himself for the unique North West challenge, his first taste of pure road racing.
His team-mate, Andrews, is ruled out by foot and heel injuries sustained at the World Superbike Championship in Valencia earlier this month.
North West fans had been looking forward to seeing British Superbike ace Andrews on the impressive new Kawasaki machine. Now Mason has stepped in after weekend talks between North West race director Mervyn Whyte and MSS team manager Nick Morgan.
“We’re delighted that Gary is able to compete,” said Whyte.
“I’ve spent some time with him looking round the course in preparation for race week and know he’s extremely excited about taking part.”
Mason is a typical, happy-go-lucky racing character who lists his likes as ‘Fast Cars, Training & Only Fools and Horses'.
He enthused: “I’m really excited about this, the North West is a legendary place and originally I was a bit gutted not to be going. Now, as Simon has unfortunately injured himself, the team have asked me to go out and I couldn’t be keener!”
Team boss Nick Morgan added, “It’s another great opportunity for Gary and he’s the obvious choice after Simon’s injury.
“Although Gary has never been to the North West before, I think he will be strong as he’s a very precise rider and picks up tracks quickly. It’s also valuable extra seat time for the British Superbike season against quality opposition.”
Mason found great form in the 2009 British Superbike series, taking his privateer machine to a front row start and 13 top 10 finishes, dominating the Privateers Cup and impressing many with his pace and consistency.
He will join a strong MSS squad for the North West, boosted by two local riders — Dungannon cannon Ryan Farquhar, who has already set the season on fire with 13 wins in two events, and Stephen Thompson, from Crumlin.
- See the Belfast Telegraph tomorrow for another North West 200 update