After the Valencia and Phillip Island rounds, the WSBK circus moves to its third continent in as many races. The latest venue is Sugo, a highly individual 3.737km circuit located in the mountains of North East Japan.
An impossibly picturesque setting for motorcycle racing, Sugo is a real challenge to riders, teams and machines, having a unique layout and a huge variety of gradients and inclines.
A mix of second and third gear corners, fast corner entries and off camber sections, Sugo also features the tightest of chicanes, immediately followed by a power-sapping drive up an incredibly steep approach to the start-finish line.
With very few of the teams testing at Sugo in pre season, or opting to nominate the track as one of their two designated test circuits, unpredictability is frequently a part of any race weekend. Local riders have always played a part in the Superbike races, with the first Western rider to win for seven years proving to be eventual World Champion Colin Edwards (Honda) in 2002.
No fewer than 18 different riders have won races at Sugo in 15 years of competition, with many of them being one-off wild card entries.
This year's pre-eminent SBK force has proved to be Neil Hodgson, the Englishman having won four races from four thus far, albeit being chased all the way by his team-mate Ruben Xaus, who has dogged Hodgson's every step and taken all four second place finishes on offer.
Behind the full factory Ducati pairing is a wide array of riders capable of scoring podium finishes. The HM Plant Ducati pairing of Chris Walker and James Toseland have each taken a third place so far on their 998 F02 twin-cylinder machines, and at Phillip Island PSG-1 Ducati rider Pierfrancesco Chili joined the podium club with a fine third in race two.
Alstare Suzuki's Gregorio Lavilla scored the first podium finish for the new breed of 1000cc four-cylinder machines in race one at Phillip Island, a small but important landmark on the 16-year history of SBK racing.
Welcome additions to the 2003 championship have been the Foggy Petronas Racing 900cc three-cylinder machines, with 1996 World Champion Troy Corser and British Superbike Championship race winner James Haydon at the controls.