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It's been a long, cold and very wet winter but the World Superbike Championship fires back into action this weekend with the much anticipated first round of the 2014 season, held in the considerably sunnier climes of Australia's Phillip Island circuit.
Long though the winter may have been, memories of Tom Sykes's famous World Superbike title win at Jerez in October remains fresh in the memory for many, even if the new champion (and now a father) himself has had his sights set firmly on 2014 almost from the moment he crossed the line in Spain.
It's been a long time since someone has successfully defended their World Superbike title – Carl Fogarty in 1999 to be exact -, but all signs point to the Kawasaki ZX-10R being even stronger in 2014, while Sykes appears more relaxed than ever in testing.
However, if Kawasaki has retained a status quo in Sykes and the ever-improving Loris Baz, things around him have changed, with Marco Melandri jumping ship from the withdrawing BMW to Aprilia. An obvious successor to Max Biaggi as an Italian star on an Italian bike, the combination is expected to be nothing less than formidable in 2014.
Somewhat less spectacular, but just as effective, Sylvain Guintoli proved race wins needn't form the basis of a title challenge last year and the question begs whether just one or two more wins in 2013 could have made the difference to his bid. The Frenchman is no longer a dark horse coming into 2014.
Instead, that status is arguably taken on by former team-mate Eugene Laverty, who finds himself at Suzuki this year. Though his nine wins en route to the runners-up spot in 2013 means there is no doubting the quality of the racer, the relative lack of success for Suzuki in recent years means there remains hesitance when touting him as a title challenger. That said, pre-season testing has certainly be promising…
With erstwhile title contenders BMW out of the game, Honda and Ducati will look to step up its form in 2014, with Jonathan Rea persevering with the evergreen CBR1000RR as he looks to mount a long-awaited title bid, while Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies will hope to benefit from the return of Feel Racing to the Ducati stable having masterminded many of its greatest WSBK triumphs in the past.
But we want to know where your money is going? Whom in 14 rounds, 28 races and 10 months will emerge victorious in 2014…?
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