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It's been a long, cold winter but the World Superbike Championship fires back into action this weekend with the much anticipated first round of the 2013 season, held in the considerably sunnier climes of Australia's Phillip Island, near Melbourne.
Four months after the 2012 championship earned its place in the history books by not only going right down to the wire but ending with Max Biaggi
edging out Tom Sykes by the narrowest of margins – half-a-point to be exact -, the scene is set for the start of what promises to be another rollercoaster season.
Of course, the No.1 plate won't be seen in 2013 after Biaggi's decision to call it a day as champion, while critics will likely point to the relative lack of grid numbers when compared with previous seasons.
Indeed, while new series organisers Dorna won't be enamoured with having less than 20 full-time members on the WSBK
grid this year, fans of the series will note that the quality has arguably never been higher, even in Biaggi's absence.
Much of this can be attributed to the relative parity of the manufacturers, with five of the six currently contesting the World Superbike Championship securing more than one win during 2012.
Furthermore, as many as 11 of the 19 riders are former WSBK
race winners, while another three of those have stepped on the podium at some stage in their career.
For many, the fight for the title is more open than ever, particularly in the absence of the reigning champion. Of those staying put in the hope of mounting a challenge, Biaggi's closest rivals in 2012, Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri, stay on board with their respective Kawasaki and BMW teams with an eye on going one step further this year, while Jonathan Rea and Eugene Laverty have also maintained the status quo at Honda and Aprilia.
Among the changes, Ducati gives the new Alstare-prepared 1199 Panigale its debut in Australia, anticipation that has been raised further by Carlos Checa's impressive pace in pre-season testing, while Chaz Davies, Sylvain Guintoli and Leon Haslam switch to BMW, Aprilia and Honda respectively for 2013.