With 150 points still up for grabs in the last three rounds at Assen, Imola and Magny Cours, anything could happen yet in SBK. Assen it is shaping up to host the closest ever Dutch round this weekend.
On the eve of the Assen race Regis Laconi, Chris Vermeulen, Noriyuki Haga, and James Toseland lie in first to fourth place respectively, with even tail-ender Toseland only eight points off the lead.
The closely matched machinery and the control tyre rules have allowed every team in SBK an equal crack at race wins – hence the unremitting competitiveness of this remarkable season.
Despite such a compression of points at the top of the field, there are innumerable other potential winners or podium finishers active in World Superbike today. Possibly the only reliable indicator of who could win either or both of Sunday's 16-lap races will come from the recent past. Of the 21 full time SBK combatants, only two have tasted victory champagne in Holland – Haga and fifth place championship contender, Pierfrancesco Chili.
The championship leader at one stage this year, Chili is still a force to be reckoned with and is one of six riders who have won races in 2004. The full list so far is Laconi (5), Haga (5), Vermeulen (3), Toseland (1), Garry McCoy (1) and Chili himself (1).
In addition to the aforementioned championship high fliers, there have been a further four riders on the podium. In seventh place overall, one behind McCoy; Steve Martin has secured a quartet of third places, and more than his fair share of diabolical luck.
Leon Haslam, Haga's 21-year-old team-mate, has taken a solo third place thus far, helping him to eighth place overall, with more to come no doubt.
The Anglo-Malaysian co-operation of the Foggy Petronas Racing is spearheaded by the riding duo of 1996 World Champion Troy Corser and rapid Briton Chris Walker. Equipped with the 900cc, three-cylinder FP-1, a unique interpretation of the SBK theme, Corser has taken a second place and Walker a third.
The pairing round out the top ten in the championship, with eight rounds and 16 races gone. After some recent engine modifications the Petronas machine should be a more potent force at fast circuits like Assen than ever before.