Phillip Island provides the magnificent backdrop for the second round of the 2004 Word Superbike Championship, as SBK returns to the classically sculpted 4.445km circuit for the fourteenth time.

The previous winner's roll reads like a who's who of World Superbike legends, with all six of the most recent champions having taken wins at this most challenging of contemporary race tracks.

The most recent PI race winner in the current field is 1996 World Champion and native Australian Troy Corser, who secured a win on the Island in the second leg of the 2000 event.

The ever-improving three-cylinder Foggy Petronas FP-1 machine secured its first ever podium finish at round one in Valencia, thanks to the efforts of Corser's team-mate Chris Walker and thus Corser sees Phillip Island as one of the main opportunities to score his first podium on the unique machine.

"I'm obviously looking forward to going back to Phillip Island," he stated. "I think that all the riders think that it's the best track on the calendar, especially for me as it's my home race. I'll have a lot of family, friends and supporters there and I will be trying hard to improve on last year's best finish of fifth.

"The flowing nature of the circuit should help us, but you can get held up if you are dicing with another rider. At this stage of our engine development, there are probably only the Siberia and Honda corners where we will lose a bit on acceleration. The competition may have improved since last year but you have to take each day as it comes at Phillip Island as a lot can depend on the weather, when local knowledge can come in handy."

With so many riders in with a chance of joining an illustrious list of previous Island winners, Corser will have no end of competition at this race - not to mention over the entire season.

The first race at Round One in Valencia, affected by changeable weather, provided some unexpected results, but none could deny the skill and commitment shown by both race winners - Ducati Fila's James Toseland and Renegade Ducati's Noriyuki Haga.

Toseland does not have to look hard for his expected closest competitor this weekend, as Superpole winner from Valencia - and team-mate -Regis Laconi is sure to be looking for revenge after a double Valencia DNF.

For Haga and his British based Renegade team the Valencia win was a tremendous boost in their first weekend of full-time SBK competition and the Japanese rider will be out to score his own second Phillip Island win, his previous Aussie highlight coming in 1998.

The list of possible winners, in something of a bumper year for potential podium placers, includes multiple SBK race winner Pierfrancesco Chili who continues in his single rider PSG-1 outfit for the 2004 season. A force to be reckoned with at Valencia, after swapping his new 999 Ducati for his existing 998 model, Chili could ride either bike in qualifying in Australia.

On the opposite end of the age spectrum from the 39-year-old Chili, 20-year-old Renegade Ducati rider Leon Haslam is a full-time SBK rookie, as is the multiple GP race winner, Garry McCoy - another fast rider of local origin.

One of the most exiting prospects for the 2004 season is the combination of reigning World Supersport Champion Chris Vermeulen and the Ten Kate Honda Fireblade, both new inductees into SBK racing.

Already enjoying some level of success on a still developing motorcycle, Vermeulen is expected to be the most effective four-cylinder rider on display. As winner of the Supersport race at Phillip Island last year, Vermeulen may surprise a few with his on-bike flair on raceday.

Possible the most underrated rider in the series in recent years, Steve Martin, demonstrated his true prowess at the previous SBK race, finishing third in race two after the heartbreak of retiring from a similar position in race one. The DFX Extreme Sterilgarda Ducati rider is currently the Phillip Island National Superbike lap record holder, and is more than capable of securing his first SBK race win on Sunday.

The fast and flowing nature of Island circuit lends itself to intense and often tactile competition in all classes. In this year of increased competition and with a level playing field for tyres, both SBK races are expected to be some of the closest of the season.

In the Supersport World Championship, an especially important event at this venue, due to the high numbers of local riders who have beaten a 600cc sized path to prominence in recent years, there are also unprecedented numbers of fast and well-equipped riders.

The previous Valencia race was a game of two contrasting halves, with Honda riders largely dominating qualifying before the Yamaha Italia duo of eventual winner Jurgen van den Goorbergh and second placed Fabien Foret scooped the biggest prizes on offer.

Alstare Suzuki rider Katsuaki Fujiwara, currently third in the championship, will be challenging for honours as ever, joined by 1999 World Champion Stephane Chambon and Vittorio Iannuzzo.

Lorenzo Lanzi heads a one man Ducati Breil 749 challenge but the best bets for local glory may well come from the Ten Kate Honda camp. Karl Muggeridge and Broc Parkes were the leading lights in qualifying in Spain and each has intimate track knowledge, plus the impetus of a partisan crowd behind them.

Yamaha Motor Germany's Kevin Curtain is another fast Aussie, but in this class of racing, there are seldom solid pre-race favourites.

Qualifying for all classes starts on Friday 26 March, culminates on Saturday 28, and while racing for real begins on Sunday 28th with two Superbike and one Supersport contest. SBK Championship leader at present is James Toseland, on 45 points.


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