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Preview - Valencia
3 April 2008
With three victories from the first four races, Ducati's double world champion Troy Bayliss sits on top of the 2008 standings by 27 points over Alstare Suzuki's Fonsi Nieto - but it's been far from business as usual for the Australian.
Bayliss has shrugged off both a pre-season collarbone fracture and then a Phillip Island practice arm injury to take the early title lead with the new 1098 F08 and was forced to miss the recent Valencia test to allow his body to heal.
With Ducati Xerox team-mate Michel Fabrizio and Sterilgarda Go Eleven star Max Biaggi also absent from the test due to Phillip Island injuries, the factory four-cylinders (with the exception of Yamaha) could start the weekend with a set-up advantage over the Italian machinery.
Although his fractured wrist is far from fully fit after his huge Phillip Island accident, Biaggi has confirmed that he will ride this weekend.
Biaggi's team-mate Ruben Xaus - currently third in the championship - spent just one day at the test, but set a highly impressive pace on both qualifying and race tyres. Xaus will be aiming for a repeat of his '07 home win on Sunday, but claimed the straight line speed of the four-cylinders might make them tough to pass.
New GSX-R rider Nieto can also count on home support as he seeks to erase his double DNF disappointment of one year ago, while Troy Corser is currently the lead Yamaha rider with fourth in championship standings.
Corser would be a lot closer to the top had it not been for his Phillip Island fall, but the double world champion still has over twice the points haul of Yamaha Italia team-mate and 2007 title runner-up Noriyuki Haga. 'Nitro Nori' is only ninth in the standings, 66 points from Bayliss, and desperately needs to get his season back on track this weekend.
Former MotoGP star Carlos Checa will compete in front of his home fans for the first time as WSBK rider this weekend. Having taken his first WSBK podium with second place in race two at Phillip Island, the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda star is gathering momentum, while the Valencia test allowed vital development work with the new Fireblade.
With Checa currently fifth in the standings, 43 points from Bayliss, the second-highest Honda is the privateer Paul Bird Motorsport entry of Gregorio Lavilla, in tenth position. The former BSB champion has produced consistent points finishers on his world championship return, but will hope to edge nearer to the front at his home event.
Lavilla currently sits just one point ahead of former BSB rival Ryuichi Kiyonari, on the factory-backed Ten Kate machine, but the Japanese put in a confidence-boasting performance during race two at Phillip Island which he will be looking to build on this weekend.
The third Ten Kate machine of Kenan Sofuoglu is equal on points with Kiyonari, but the reigning World Supersport had a tough time at the Valencia test as he seeks to adapt his proven Supersport style to a 1000cc machine.
Others to watch out for will be Yukio Kagayama, set to make his return from injury this weekend, alongside team-mates Nieto and Max Neukirchner (sixth in the points), while DF Racing rider Karl Muggeridge may be a man to watch in qualifying after turning heads by setting the one-lap pace during the Valencia test.
The factory PSG-1 Kawasaki team of Regis Laconi (23rd in points) and Makoto Tamada (19th) will be looking to put a torrid start to the new season behind them, while the World Supersport battle will begin with Josh Brookes four points clear of the surprising Joan Lascorz - riding in front of his home fans.
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