Ben Spies will start his first race as World Superbike Championship leader in this weekend's Imola round, held in Ducati's 'backyard'.

Yamaha's superstar rookie snatched the title lead from Ducati's Noriyuki Haga when the Japanese fell last time out in Germany. Spies, a winner of 12 of the 22 races so far this season, will start the final three rounds with an 18 point advantage over Haga.

A Yamaha rider has never won a WSBK race at Imola, while Ducati heads the list with six wins from the eleven past races.

Nevertheless, Spies will be out to emulate the 2002 Imola performance of fellow Texan Colin Edwards (Honda) - who claimed the world title after a thrilling showdown with Troy Bayliss (Ducati) at the Italian circuit.

And, unlike at many tracks this year, Spies has at least tested at Imola.

"I'm looking forward to riding on a track we've tested at again," said Spies. "I feel we should have a good weekend coming up as we have a lot of data to go on, we got a lot accomplished at the test.

"We don't have as big a lead as we would like but I've been in this situation before, it's not so strange for me. As far as I'm concerned, we're going to Imola to try and win two races.

"We know this is Ducati's backyard and the past has been pretty good for them, so it will be tough," he admitted. "Having said that we have some good stuff worked out with the bike and the team has been continuing to develop so I'm confident we can pull in some good results."

Spies set the fourth fastest overall time at July's Imola test, which Haga missed due to injury.

"We had a very productive test at Imola, a big factor being Ben knows the track now," said his crew chief Tom Houseworth. "This will allow us to work on setup straight away, on both bikes if necessary. Unlike Nurburgring we won't lose any track learning time if it rains, last race weekend proved that puts us behind quickly.

"Both Ben's bikes are a bit different so we'll try each one and figure out which is more comfortable to go fast on. We're hoping to be able to test some race rubber and dial in the 'back in' control in the second session," he revealed. "If all goes well and the weather holds Saturday should be fine tuning day. By this time we will have picked a bike and will concentrate on tuning the traction and wheelie control.

"Of course the goal is to make the bike as easy for Ben to ride fast as possible come Sunday. We'll see how it goes!"

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