With ultimate velocities of well over 300kmph and average lap speeds of over 190kmph Monza holds the crown as the fastest track on the World Superbike calendar and - despite the addition of numerous chicanes over the years - speed and power are still the most important steps on the Monza podium ladder.

The oldest permanent European track still in regular use, Monza is located inside a former Royal Park, surrounded by greenery and the remains of the old circuit's steep banking. A place of memories and nostalgia, the Italian circuit is still a venue where modern World SBK competitors get to practice their slipstreaming and racecraft in a unique fashion.

With no fewer than five different winners in six races so far this year, the 2004 version of World Superbike is as closely fought and unpredictable as ever, with the latest race winner also the pre-Monza championship leader, Pierfrancesco Chili.

At Misano on April 18 Chili sent his local crowd - and legions of his loyal fans around the world - into a frenzy of joy by securing his 17th career win in his 223rd SBK race. The enduring and always entertaining Chili knows what it's like to win at Monza, having secured his first ever SBK victory there in 1995.

Privateer Chili's speed and consistency have delivered him a 20-point championship cushion but at the high-speed academy of Monza, works power is always an important asset. The factory Fila Ducati riders, James Toseland and Regis Laconi, sit second and third overall in the table at present and ,more than any other riders, they will be looking to exploit any power advantage that their unique Ducati 999F04 machines have.

In this season, in which ultimate performance is within range of more teams than ever before, Monza will be an excellent test of how far the teams equipped with multi-cylinder 1000cc machines have progressed since the first round at Valencia on February 29th.

The foremost four-cylinder machine in the championship at present time is the Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade of Chris Vermeulen. The reigning World Supersport Champion has made outstanding progress since his promotion to Superbike, having secured two podiums already. The 21-year-old Aussie now sits in fourth place overall, 27-points off the lead.

Monza is a circuit Vermeulen rates very highly and if his still-developing machine has improved sufficiently since Misano, he may be the darkest horse in the Monza firmament. As Vermeulen is the only rider in the top six without a win to his name this season he is particularly keen to join this increasingly inclusive club with all due haste.

Other top-level four-cylinder entries come from the Bertocchi Kawasaki, MIR Suzuki and UnionBike Yamaha teams. With Chili, Toseland and Laconi (2) having all won races so far, the other victories have gone to Ducati 999RS riders Noriyuki Haga (Renegade Ducati 999RS) and Garry McCoy (Xerox Ducati Nortel Networks 999RS). Monza will be less of a known quantity for SBK inductee McCoy, as this is his first full season of World Superbike, having enjoyed a glittering GP career.

The upwardly mobile Foggy Petronas team, running the unique three-cylinder Petronas FP-1 machine, has experienced a real measure of success this season. First off Chris Walker took a third place at Valencia on the opening day and more recently Troy Corser secured second place in race one at Misano.

An interim engine specification will power their Monza assault, before a full revamp comes on stream for the Laguna Seca round in July. The team has managed to squeeze in a test of the new motor in Spain and it has already been voted an improvement over the previous spec.

Meanwhile, the fourth round of the World Supersport championship is expected to be the most knife-edge of them all, despite the recent success of Honda riders at the Monza speed bowl.

Last year's winner Chris Vermeulen may have moved on to Superbike duty, but the remaining combatants, Karl Muggeridge and Broc Parkes, know that Ten Kate CBR600RR Hondas have secured the past two Monza wins.

The other four manufacturers involved in Supersport have already proved to have their own turns of speed this season, and with Championship leader Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Yamaha Italia YZF-R6) finishing second last year, and with his team hailing from the outskirts of Monza itself, there is great expectation from the official Yamaha camp.

To underline the challenge, 2002 World Champion Fabien Foret (Yamaha Italia) won the '02 Monza race on his way to the title. Kevin Curtain (Yamaha Motor Germany) is another Monza favourite, and the all-new Suzukis of Katsuaki Fujiwara and Stephane Chambon, plus the factory Breil Ducati 749 of Lorenzo Lanzi, cannot be written off.