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PREMIERSHIP PREVIEW: LEICESTER

LEICESTER head into their second season back in the Premiership with a clear target to achieve what they didn’t quite manage during a largely successful 2023 campaign.

For much of the year, the Lions looked set to hold a comfortable place in the top four, and with several convincing home wins and eye-catching displays on the road they were being tipped as dark horses for the title itself.

But the suspension of Nick Morris triggered a series of team changes which ultimately proved unsuccessful and with the pressure building due to the good run enjoyed by Ipswich, the Lions weren’t able to get over the line, suffering a heavy 58-32 defeat in a dramatic finale at Peterborough – when just two more race points would have been enough.

A change of ownership was completed early in the winter with Paul Cairns taking the reins from the Bates family, whilst Stewart Dickson remains in charge as promoter and team manager, having led the club to the Championship title in 2019.

Dickson has retained three of the riders who were with the club last year, with two of those having been there for the duration, and he has also made moves following the sad closure of Wolverhampton to rebuild his top five in several areas.

But arguably their most important signing was the retention of Australian star MAX FRICKE at No.1, with the former Belle Vue racer enjoying an excellent first season with the club – and if anything, he has even more incentive this year as he looks to reclaim his place in the Grand Prix series.

Fricke is well clear at the top of the Lions’ averages but the three riders incoming from Wolverhampton are all within just over a tenth of a point, and it will be interesting to see who emerges as the second heat-leader.

There’s a good case for it being RYAN DOUGLAS, who rode for the Lions in the second tier in 2019 and 2021, has scored well on his returns, and notably achieved a higher away average than at home during his time with Wolves.

The experienced SAM MASTERS also makes the switch across the Midlands and rejoins the club where he spent a doubling-up spell in the old Elite League in 2015, whilst American star LUKE BECKER will look to keep up his improvement and will be chasing an injury-free campaign after two spells out last year.

The other rider retained in the top five is RICHARD LAWSON, another rider with a strong record at the Pidcock Motorcycles Arena, Beaumont Park, and his presence as a second-string is an indication of the Lions’ strength in depth in the main body of the side.

At reserve, DREW KEMP steps up from Rising Star after averaging over four since joining the club midway through 2023, and the Lions have taken advantage of the 25 per cent discount to his average in order to pack the points in their top five.

The Rising Star berth is now taken by local youngster JOE THOMPSON, who filled that role for a time with Ipswich last year and has now effectively swapped places with twin brother Dan, with his experience around his home track likely to lead to an increase on his average.

WATLING JCB LEICESTER LIONS 2024

Max Fricke 8.98

Ryan Douglas 7.14

Sam Masters 7.13

Luke Becker 7.03

Richard Lawson 6.41

Drew Kemp 3.03

Joe Thompson RS

*Subject to approval