3. Carlos Checa
When Carlos Checa announced he would be switching from the factory-nominated surroundings of Ten Kate Honda to the rather lesser known entity that was Althea Racing for 2010, it created barely more than an acknowledgement.
Indeed, while Checa's two seasons in World Superbikes had brought notable success – including two wins -, his 2009 title challenge didn't live up to expectations and when the time came to leave he team at the end of the season, other manufacturers seemed fairly uninterested.
Althea Racing, meanwhile, had spent two years pedalling a single Honda, but was now embarking on its own challenge with a switch to Ducati machinery.
With the two pairing up for 2010, it is fair to say expectations were modest all round pre-season…
It took just a single round for that to turn on its head, Checa returning to the top step of the podium at Phillip Island after an outstanding – and unexpected - performance that smashed Althea's previous best WSBK result of eighth.
It was momentum Checa would retain throughout the season, the Spaniard revelling in his lower pressure surroundings to create an unlikely thorn in the side of Ducati by out-pacing its factory Xerox riders from start-to-finish.
Consistency defined Checa's season, the white, blue and red machine often amongst the lead pack during every race, though he and his team would make it clear at most events that the bike was down on top speed compared to its four-cylinder rivals – the failure to crack the top ten at Monza being a case point.
Still, when Checa was on a charge – regardless of where his bike was topping out - he was a mighty force, most notably at Miller Motorsports Park when an almost-certain 50 points was lost by a bizarre throttle problem that struck twice on one day. The frustration of that day is further compounded by the fact that Althea's reliability record before and after was exemplary.
Nonetheless, Checa shrugged off the bitter disappointment with dignity and got some redemption with a late double at Imola from ninth position on the grid. Those results, combined with problems for his former team-mate Jonathan Rea, did help Checa sneak third in the standings – 39 points up on Noriyuki Haga.
A well deserved result for a rider that made few mistakes – a deviation on a reputation for 'tumbling' that followed him to World Superbikes from MotoGP -, Checa's return to form was a welcome surprise in 2010 and one that has helped slash his odds for a title tilt in 2011 on the back of Ducati's decision to focus its resources on its privateer concerns.
He may not be in the first flush of youth, but Checa's performance this season suggests his career may not have peaked just yet…
1st (Phillip Island, Imola)
Crash.net's WSBK Top 10
3. Carlos Checa
4. Cal Crutchlow
5. Jonathan Rea
6. Leon Camier
7. Tom Sykes
8. Troy Corser
9. Noriyuki Haga
10. Sylvain Guintoli