Honda Racing has announced that Mark Heckles' temporary ride for its British Superbike team has been extended until the end of the 2003 season.

The 27-year-old Liverpool rider was originally brought in to compete in the second and third rounds of the series at Snetterton and Thruxton. However, Heckles' impressive performances on the Honda Racing VTR1000 SP-2 have led to a permanent signing.

Unfortunately, Honda Racing's participation in the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT means that Heckles will be unable to join team-mate Steve Plater in the fifth round of the British Superbike Championship at Knockhill on 17-18 May. Honda Racing's considerable resources have already been committed to the logistics and competition of leading road race events with the VTR1000 SP-2.

Heckles is obviously delighted that his immediate future has been secured with Honda Racing. "I'm really happy that my place has been confirmed for the rest of the season," said the former World Superbike star, who is currently 13th in the British Superbike Championship on 25 points. "I may have missed pre-season testing and the first round of the championship at Silverstone but I feel that I'm already making up for lost time.

"I am fortunate to be working for such a professional team as Honda Racing. They have made me feel really welcome and allowed me to get on with the important job of getting the very best out of the VTR1000 SP-2. I've never had such a competitive package and I feel privileged to be given this opportunity at such an important stage in my career. I'd like to thank everyone associated with Honda Racing and it is my intention to ensure that I won't let anyone down."

Heckles failed to finish his British Superbike Championship debut at Snetterton because of severe tyre wear on the Norfolk track experienced by all riders. However, he recovered from that disappointment to take a fighting seventh place in the second leg. His progression has continued with eighth in both races at Thruxton on Easter Sunday - enough to clinch a full-time ride for Honda Racing.

Honda Racing Team Manager Neil Tuxworth explained the circumstances behind the announcement: "Mark is an excellent rider and we have been monitoring his progress since he rode a VTR1000 SP-2 in last year's Superbike World Championship. We were so impressed that we gave him the opportunity to test Colin Edwards' factory machine at Brands Hatch last August.

"Then, when the chance came to try-out a second rider to partner Steve Plater in this year's British Superbike Championship, Mark was the first rider we turned to. There is no doubt that he deserves this chance to prove his ability in the world's premier domestic Superbike series thanks to the loyalty he has shown to Honda Racing during his career. Of course, it is also an indication of Honda Racing's commitment to the domestic championship by doubling the size of our team at such an early stage of the season."



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