Preview – Phillip Island.

The second race of the 2003 season provides the first 'long haul' for the WSBK circus, as the world's premier streetbike-based series abandons the European arena for the delights of Phillip Island in Australia.

Consistently one of the favourite venues of the year, thanks to the warm Aussie welcome and the awesomely undulating and challenging Phillip Island circuit itself, the lone Australian round of the season is a highlight of this - or any - SBK campaign.

The gloriously designed Phillip Island track, 4.445km in length, features a fast main straight, a bravery test at turn one and a myriad of other gradients, cambers and cornering speeds to test the world finest.

With no official all-encompassing Phillip Island test sessions forming part of the off-season, most of the teams entering the second round will have much work to do over two days of qualifying, with the grippy but increasingly bumpy –and often windy -Victorian circuit always presenting a particular set up quandary.

Last year Troy Bayliss took an emotional double victory, but with he and Colin Edwards having moved to MotoGP this year factory Ducati Fila factory riders Neil Hodgson and Ruben Xaus are firm favourites, with the Brit on top form after a double win in the opening round.

That result, combined with Xaus' twin appearances on the second step of the Valencia podium, makes it hard to imagine they'll be battling for anything other than victory.

But one short step behind the leading Ducati pairing is a plethora of ex-factory and privateer Ducati 998 riders, with the most impressive thus far being the HM Plant pairing of Chris Walker and James Toseland, who shared a podium and a fourth place finish each at the first round, on March 2. Equipped with 2002 spec fully factory machines Toseland and Walker will be aiming to mix it with the full factory duo in Australia, and thereafter.

Sharing almost equal star billing at the Valencia curtain-raiser were the Foggy Petronas Racing 900cc triples, ridden by 1996 World Champion Troy Corser and British Superbike Championship race winner James Haydon.

Corser's incredible third place qualifying performance was a first attempt landmark in SBK history, and Haydon and Corser both went on to secure one DNF and a points scoring finish each. Corser has the spur of home ground to push his performance on in front of the expectant big Phillip Island crowd, and the prospect of a more powerful machine to boot.

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Despite crashing, at least Ruben Xaus is left with a good view.

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