It would take a lot for next year's World Superbike Championship to top this year's down-to-the-wire exchange between Noriyuki Haga and Ben Spies, but as the 2010 grid takes shape, the prospects look good.
With the likes of James Toseland and Chris Vermeulen returning from MotoGP, Cal Crutchlow graduating from Supersports and Haga remaining for another year, 2010 has the potential to be just as – if not more – exciting than this year.
Furthermore, of the seven manufacturer teams, only six riders from a probable 14 have been fully confirmed, although several more – such as Max Biaggi and Troy Corser – are almost certain to be remaining where they are in 2010.
As a result, there are several good seats still up for grabs and even more riders are currently circling them. Crash.net takes a look at who will definitely be racing in 2010 and study those rumours…
The champion team was the first to confirm it won't be making any changes to its line-up for 2010 following a successful first season with Noriyuki Haga at the helm. Although the Japanese rider had been tipped for retirement, particularly if he won the title, he will race on for another year, where he will no doubt be considering who will take the place of Ben Spies as his biggest contender for the 2010 crown. That person could turn out to be Michel Fabrizio, who has made considerable strides in 2009, winning two races and occasionally expanding the two-way fight into a three-way. With the right nationality and ever-improving credentials, Fabrizio was an obvious choice to remain.
Yamaha embark on another completely new (and British) line-up in 2010, necessitated by Spies' switch to MotoGP and Tom Sykes' less than favourable results. Also possibly the most exciting line-up on the grid, James Toseland returns to challenge for a third world title, the Briton putting his split from Tech 3 Yamaha in MotoGP behind him to eye a spot in the record books by winning it with a third different manufacturer. He will be joined in the team by Cal Crutchlow, whose outstanding debut season in the World Supersport category has been justly rewarded with a spot on a factory R1.
Ten Kate Honda
Its best representative from the word go, it's unsurprising that Ten Kate Honda are keeping hold of Jonathan Rea for another two seasons, the Northern Irishman pledging his future to the Japanese manufacturer after a bold debut year in World Superbikes. Managing two wins on a bike that struggled at the beginning of the year, Rea has humbled his two more experienced team-mates in the process. While Ten Kate has already confirmed it will trim its line-up from three to two bikes, Rea's team-mate hasn't yet been revealed. Rumours had placed Toseland and Chris Vermeulen with making a return, but both have landed elsewhere, suggesting Carlos Checa – who has been having a good run of form lately – could well get a stay of execution. Leon Haslam has also been mentioned in connection with a move from Stiggy, but he appears to be closer to a deal with Suzuki. Ryuichi Kiyonari, meanwhile, is tipped to return to Japan or BSB.
Alex de Angelis, Leon Camier, Shane Byrne
No rider has been confirmed with Aprilia for 2010, but it's almost certain that Max Biaggi will remain following his stellar season on the increasingly competitive RSV-4. However, with the injury-riddled Shinya Nakano having apparently been eased out of the team, a plum seat has opened up with a few notable candidates in the frame. Naturally, Leon Camier's appearance on the bike for the final two rounds has raised speculation that he is bound for the manufacturer in 2010, although it is possible he will be riding for a second-string team, possibly alongside Shane Byrne. Instead, Alex de Angelis has been linked with Aprilia having been frozen out of nearly every available MotoGP ride. de Angelis has already signalled his desire to race in Superbikes, rather than test in MotoGP, meaning he could well be following in the footsteps of fellow exiles Toseland and Vermeulen.
Max Neukirchner, Tom Sykes
While 2009 won't be considered a vintage year for the Suzuki team, the former champions remain a reckoned force and it threatens to come back in 2010 with a strong line-up. While the team looks set to stick with two riders again – despite earlier rumours that it would go back to three -, it is expected to announce the acquisition of Leon Haslam soon, particularly in light of the Briton's recent split from Stiggy Racing. The identity of the second rider, however, could take longer to fathom. Having had his season ruined by injury, highly-rated Max Neukirchner is expected to come back in 2010, although concern remains over the long-lasting effects of his ailments. If the team is convinced he can race without putting himself at further risk, he is expected to join Haslam. If not, Tom Sykes could well be poised to rekindle his relationship with the manufacturer, while Claudio Corti has had a good season on the Alstare Suzuki bike in the Superstock championship.