WSBK Portimao test – Preview.

After months of speculation, lyrical waxing and self promotion, some reputations will be on the line when the 2009 World Superbike season effectively kicks off with a three-day group test at Portimao this weekend.

Running from Friday to Sunday, all 32 riders registered on the largest ever official WSBK entry list will make the trip to Portugal to give the first proper indicator as who will be the rider to beat in 2009.

Seven manufacturers, including newcomers Aprilia and BMW, will enter a total of 15 factory backed entrants this year, meaning there will some very high-profile riders finishing outside the top ten when the season comes to an end in eleven months time.

Together with a further 17 private, or semi-private, entries, the competitiveness of this year's championship is already whetting the appetite of motorcycle fans around the world and prompting fevered debate as to who will be amongst those to beat.

Many eyes will be on reigning champions Ducati Xerox, who enter their first season without 2008's runaway title winner Troy Bayliss. It is his replacement Noriyuki Haga that will garner much of the attention, particularly if he makes the headlines again as he did with his series of falls during testing at Kyalami.

On that occasion, it was his team-mate Michel Fabrizio who upstaged him, the Italian shrugging off an indifferent maiden season with the factory team to dominate proceedings in South Africa. With a year now under his belt, Fabrizio could edge his way further up the betting order if he proves in Portugal that his pace wasn't a fluke.

Yamaha will be another team with eyes fixed firmly on them as they introduce their all rookie pairing of Ben Spies and Tom Sykes. The antithesis of Haga and Troy Corser in terms of experience, Spies has already shown he is more than capable of running with the best of the World Superbike riders.

With prior knowledge of the Portimao circuit, it may provide the best indicator as to where he and the new 'long bang' Yamaha is amongst its rivals. Having been slightly overshadowed by Spies so far and suffering with an ailment in Kyalami, Sykes will want to use the test as a chance to get closer to his team-mate.

Compared with Ducati and Yamaha, and to a lesser extent BMW and Aprilia, Honda have had a fairly low-profile winter period as most concentrate on their F1 withdrawal. Still, any fears of scaling back will be unfounded when the season gets underway as they will be represented by eight bikes in 2009, three works and five independent.

Related Pictures

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