Pierfrancesco Chili, one of the most experienced World Superbike riders of all-time, expects this year's series to be one of the most 'balanced' yet, claiming that up to eight riders could challenge for the 2009 title.
Chili, who recorded 17 WSBK wins over a 276 race period, believes the title could come from one of four different manufacturers since there is currently no obvious favourite to assume Troy Bayliss' crown.
Even so, Chili does name Noriyuki Haga, Michel Fabrizio, Carlos Checa, Ben Spies and Max Neukirchner as his candidates to win this year, before adding that Ryuichi Kiyonari, Jonathan Rea and Shane Byrne are another three that could cause a 'surprise'.
Furthermore, when asked how he thinks newcomers Aprilia and BMW will fare this year, Chili expects them to become a significant factor as the season continues.
“The two factory Ducati riders, Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, Carlos Checa on the Honda, Ben Spies with the Yamaha and Max Neukirchner with the Suzuki [are my favourites]. It will be a very balanced championship, without Bayliss in the mix. And there may also be some surprises, from Ryuichi Kiyonari, Jonathan Rea and Shane Byrne.
"I do not believe that [BMW and Aprilia] in their first season they will be able to fight for the title, but surely in the second part of championship will be more competitive. At the last test the BMW, in the hands of Troy Corser, improved a lot, while Aprilia showed that they still have some problems. However, the RSV4 is already strong and in some races we will see it fight for the podiums."
Having retired at the end of the 2006 season and assumed the role of WSBK commentator for Italian television, Chili begins a new chapter in his career this season having taken over the running of the privateer Guandalini Ducati outfit.
Already expanding the team to include Brendan Roberts alongside Jakub Smrz, Chili is expecting good results from his two riders this year.
"With regard to Smrz, after a very good year in 2008 we want to put in place conditions that let him make an even bigger jump in quality. The objective is to see him improve even more. To Roberts, we must allow him time to find his confidence in this category first of all; after that we are convinced that he has the quality to take some satisfying results away from his debut season in SBK."