The new look 2004 World Superbike Championship kicks off in what is now traditional style, at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit, Valencia, on Sunday 29 February.
This season will be the 17th of continuous World Superbike competition, with road-derived machinery from a variety of manufacturers once more doing battle on the racetracks of the world, from the historic and contemporary venues in Europe to the intercontinental rounds in Australia and America.
A total of five previous race winners will be competing in World Superbike this season, and all will be in attendance at Valencia, vying with each other for the right to call themselves the first winner in the latest era of global Superbike racing.
A modification in the technical rules in the Superbike class sees twin, triples and four-cylinder machines engaging in SBK competition on a truly level footing this year. The adoption of spec Pirelli tyres is also expected to play a major part in making the competition as close as it possibly can be.
With each eligible SBK machine capable of producing up to - and over - 200bhp from its roadbike-based motor, the competition is could well be as exciting as in any of the previous 16 years.
The official Valencia winter test sessions have normally been a good indicator of how the season itself will go and all the evidence so far points to the pre-eminent SBK forces emanating from the Ducati Fila factory workshops.
Fastest man in the earlier Valencia tests was proven SBK race winner Regis Laconi, who was victorious in a dramatic final race of the 2001 season, at Imola. Fourth overall in the championship last year, the Ducati Fila mounted Frenchman will have to fight hard in every corner of every race this season, especially with the likes of his very own team-mate James Toseland – a rider who also enjoys the status of race winner in this intense category of motorcycle sport.
Toseland was a fine third overall last year, heading off Laconi in the final races of the year at Magny Cours, shortly before he too was promoted to the full factory Ducati team for 2004.
Of the current SBK combatants, Troy Corser is the most successful at Valencia, the Foggy Petronas FP-1 rider doing the double in the 2001 season. Corser is joined in by the exciting talent of Chris Walker, the two men competing on the technically innovative three-cylinder machine, a fusion of Malaysian and European technology.