Preview – Monza.

The fastest circuit on the SBK calendar hosts the fourth round of the World Superbike Championship on Sunday 18 June, the twelfth time the classic circuit of Monza, situated North East of Milan, has hosted such an event.

Always a stunning venue to watch racing from, Monza oozes character and the rings to the echoes of its eighty year history, offering a unique experience for riders more used to the slower, tighter, more modern circuits.

Lap speeds averaging 180kmph and over are commonplace at Monza, despite the proliferation of speed quenching chicanes which have been added over the years on grounds of safety.

Team Ducati File's Neil Hodgson has scored six straight race wins in 2003, and – ominously for his competitors - is the only rider in the current SBK field to have scored a podium at Monza during the 2002 event.

Riding the all-new Ducati 999 F02 on the machine's home soil for the first time, the Englishman will find his team-mate Ruben Xaus a tough competitor as always, especially as the Spaniard saw Hodgson's lead extended after the previous Sugo round, where Xaus took two fourth place finishes.

Another Spanish rider may beat Xaus or Hodgson to the top step in either or both Monza races, judging by the recent performance of Gregorio Lavilla's GSX-R1000 four-cylinder machine and the resurgence of the rider himself.

Quite how much his machine will be affected by the intake restrictors (fitted only to 1000cc fours this season) at such a quick circuit as Monza is yet to be ascertained, but on the long straight at Phillip Island Lavilla appeared to be at no particular disadvantage.

Other potential podium finishers are numerous, with seven riders having already taken at least one podium score this year.

Possible podium favourites, due to running year old factory Ducati 998F02s, are the HM Plant Ducati pairing of James Toseland and Chris Walker. Each rider has had good and bad fortune so far but Toseland's five race finishes and two podiums place him fourth in the championship, behind Hodgson, Xaus and Lavilla.

For Walker, injured at the start of the year, another pair of crashes at Sugo during round three have caused further injury to his feet and ankles, although Walker has vowed to be in Italy.

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And they`re off. Superbike action from Monza.

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