The fifth round of the World Superbike championship gets underway on 28 May at the multipurpose motorsports park of Oschersleben, situated some 35km west of Magdeburg.

Nestling within the heartland of German motorcycle sport, Oschersleben was in the vanguard of the 1990s revolution in circuit design, it's magnificently appointed facilities deliberately created in a stadium-style layout.

Thanks to the raised spectator grandstands Oschersleben affords excellent viewing facilities for the enthusiastic German crowd, a fact which makes Oschersleben one of the more popular European based races for foreign visitors from East and West of the German border.

After the incredibly high speeds of Monza, where some teams' speed sensors clocked into the 200mph plus band - and 300kmph top speeds were commonplace - Oschersleben could not be a more different challenge.

With seven left and seven right hand corners in a short 3.667km lap distance, the riders have no chance for respite from their rhythmic trinity of braking, cornering and accelerating. The corners at Oschersleben are also peculiar in that many feature tightening exits, a factor which challenges each rider's self discipline to not run in towards the apex too fast.

As technical as they come, Oschersleben is a tough stop for the World Superbike Express, and one that particularly rewards a good grasp of machine set-up and tyre choice.

Of the competing powers at Oschersleben in 2004, only one has taken a win on a previous visit, James Toseland, who secured a race two victory last year when riding for the privateer HM Plant Ducati team. As a full member of the official factory Ducati Fila squad this year, Toseland currently lies second in the championship, only three points from the lead.

However, having taken the lead in the championship for the first time at the preceding Monza event, four-time 2004 race winner Regis Laconi enters the Oschersleben race in a better position than he could ever have expected after two no-scores in round one at Valencia.

A further DNF would follow at Phillip Island, but Laconi now leads team-mate James Toseland by a mere three points. Given Toseland's pedigree at Oschersleben, and that Laconi has never previously finished on the Oschers podium, a close fight between the Fila pair is expected.

Meanwhile, before the desperate disappointment of a double DNF at Monza, Ducati privateer Pierfrancesco Chili led the world on his 998R-based machine. Even after two no scores at Monza, he still sits in third place overall, safe in the knowledge that he had an outstanding second place in race one last year.

Looking for payback from lady luck, Chili approaches his 40th birthday in June with as much speed and aggression as riders half his age, ensuring his continued popularity to a global audience.

With all riders in SBK 2004 having the same choice of Pirelli control tyres, the championship fight has closed up considerably with Ducati privateers Garry McCoy (Xerox Ducati Nortel Networks 999RS) and Noriyuki Haga (Renegade Ducati 999RS) both scoring a race win apiece. With two third places earned at Monza, McCoy approaches Oschersleben on a roll - and with third place Chili only ten points ahead of him.

The fastest of the four-cylinder riders, Ten Kate Honda's Chris Vermeulen was excluded from second in race two at Monza for a non-functioning automatic cutout switch, but the 21-year-old has already tasted podium success this year and his ability to deal with new situations as they arise, plus the speed of the new Honda's development, means Oschersleben may still hold much for the Dutch-based team.

Other top-level four-cylinder entries come from the Bertocchi Kawasaki, MIR Suzuki and UnionBike Yamaha teams, as they ride to the challenge of toppling the twin-cylinder machines from the leading positions.

If there was an award for effort in the face of adversity this season then Aussie privateer Steve Martin would surely take it for his performance on the DFX Ducati 999RS. Teamed with another talented trier, Marco Borciani, Martin is 11th, and would be much higher if he had not suffered some outrageous misfortunes, including engine failures while leading and an elbow injury at Monza.

Nevertheless, with two podiums to his credit, Martin will be out for a personal hat-trick of champagne ceremonies on Sunday 30th at Oschersleben.

The Foggy Petronas team, running the unique three-cylinder Petronas FP-1 machine, came away from Monza with real hopes of another few shots at the podium in the later stages of the year.

Chris Walker and Troy Corser have both taken podiums, but despite a new engine team looking after the development and maintenance of the reverse head three-cylinder 900cc engine, the team acknowledge that the twins and bigger fours may have the edge on corner exiting grunt at the convoluted Oschersleben.

SBK has, however, offered up a world of surprises this year so far, and another good weekend could be on the cards for one of the most unique teams in the paddock.

In the World Supersport championship, reigning champions Ten Kate Honda look to be regaining their 2003 form with Karl Muggeridge and Broc Parkes both on the podium at Monza - where Muggeridge took his second victory of the season.

Nevertheless, Yamaha Italia's Jurgen van den Goorbergh still leads the title chase, while the shadowing figure of fellow R6 rider Kevin Curtain has shown it's not going to just be a two-rider fight for the title just yet.

In amongst a strong line up of Honda and Yamaha teams there is a three-man Alstare Suzuki effort, currently headed by fourth place Katsuaki Fujiwara while Breil Ducati's Italian hot-shot Lorenzo Lanzi fills sixth place overall, but is still looking for his first podium.

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