The British Superbike Championship is back in action this bank holiday weekend but the series will sadly be missing a rider who has lit up the season so far.
With top-six finishes in every race so far this year, Stuart Easton has lifted himself into championship contention, with a second place in the race two at Croft leaving him just six points behind current leader Shane 'Shakey' Byrne.
But, sadly, his season was brought to a premature end following a high-speed accident at last week's North West 200, which left him with pelvic, leg and hand as well as some internal injuries. Paul Bird Motorsport, who have been supporting Easton's BSB campaign on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, have assured him of a ride on his return but for now, his MSS Colchester Kawasaki ride will be taken by EVO class leader Alex Lowes.
The 20-year-old from Lincoln had dominated the championship so far, winning five races on the bounce, but was forced to give up his ride with WFR Honda for commercial reasons. And after mixing it with higher-powered machinery at Oulton Park and Croft, Lowes will now have the opportunity to demonstrate his ability on level terms.
The season has been much more straightforward for the returning Shane Byrne, who is the only man to win more than a single race so far this year. The HM Plant Honda rider led the way in the season opener at Brands Hatch and was unstoppable in race two at Croft. In fact, he should have left North Yorkshire with maximum points but an engine failure denied him a certain victory in race one.
That had temporarily handed the championship lead to John Hopkins, who continues to impress in his debut season in the United Kingdom and lies just three points behind Byrne. The Crescent Suzuki rider now heads to Thruxton, a circuit he has never raced at before, but that was also the case at Oulton Park, the scene of his maiden BSB win.
With Easton not involved, Ryuichi Kiyonari is effectively third in the Championship. The reigning champion had a nightmare weekend at Croft after he failed to recover from a poor qualifying session. As a result, he has a 36 point deficit to make up on his HM Plant Honda teammate.
Just two points further back is Tommy Hill who has done well to remain in contention after missing both races at Outlon Park due to injury. The Swan Yamaha YZF-R1 has proved a strong package at every circuit it has competed at and Hill, along with his teammate Michael Laverty, will be looking for a return to winning ways.
Jon Kirkham broke his BSB duck last time out at Croft while Gary Mason stepped onto the podium for the first time in the same race. It will be interesting to see if that success continues in Hampshire, particularly with Mason now charged with the task of leading the MSS Colchester Kawasaki squad.
The season is yet to really burst into life for Rapid Solicitors–Bathams Ducati, but their home event presents an opportunity to change that. The Bridgewater-based team has been making steady improvements to the 1198R but as yet, it has only produced a best result of sixth. This weekend would be a good time to change that.
With Alex Lowes no longer eligible, the mirror.co.uk EVO class is now wide open. Former teammate Glen Richards trails by 60 points so will not overhaul him this weekend, but will surely do so sooner rather than later. The Australian is 11 points ahead of Swiss rider Patric Muff whose consistency has propelled him into title contention despite failing to finish in the top three at all so far. In fact, with Lowes out of the championship, 25 points now covers the top six riders who will now do battle for the title.