After season-opening rounds at the long-haul destinations of Qatar and Australia, the 12-round World Superbike championship returns to more familiar territory for the remainder of the championship season starting with Spain this weekend of the 22nd-24th April.
Valencia, now something of a regular stop off point for WSBK races and test sessions, is round three in the current series. First introduced to the championship in 2000, the 4.005km Valencia race circuit is a largely twisty and is known by the teams and riders to offer little grip as well as the added bonus of changeable grip conditions thanks to the sea breeze that blows dust onto the circuit randomly. However it was built with the spectators in mind, and many grandstands offer the paying public a good view of most of the circuit.
Several of the current crop of World Superbike contestants have already taken race wins there, most notably James Toseland, Troy Corser
and Noriyuki Haga
in the days gone by.
A glance at the current championship standings tells the story of the early 2005 series, with Alstare Suzuki riding duo of Troy Corser
and Yukio Kagayama
having scored the a majority of the points on offer. With 91 from a possible 100 for Corser and 85 for Kagayama, the Suzuki squad could hardly be better placed as they enter the Valencia round. Added to this their total domination during the official test after Qatar, the pair are seemingly unstoppable. Corser currently has three wins (26 in his career) while WSBK new-boy Kagayama has a single success; race two in Qatar.
The closest challenger to the dominance of the Suzukis has been the Xerox Ducati of 2004 season runner up, Regis Laconi. His two podium finishes so far in 2005, and two gritty rides against adversity in Australia leave him third in the championship table, with 54 points.
Meanwhile his team-mate and 2004 World champion is having an even tougher 2005 so far, running in an unaccustomedly lowly eighth place, James Toseland is struggling after some dreadful misfortunes and high-speed crashes. As a winner at Valencia last year, his rivals know that he could well bounce back to be in running for honours again come raceday.
Youth has been given chances in high profile teams once more this year, as fourth placed rider Chris Vermeulen on the Winston Ten Kate Honda and Max Neukirchner on the Klaffi Honda battle it out for unofficial status of top Honda rider of 2005.
Neukirchner, a promotee from WSS last year, will join Vermeulen on the 22-year mark, shortly before the Valencia weekend.
In marked contrast, Neukirchner's team-mate – the most experienced World Superbike riders there is – Pierfrancesco Chili is suffering from a broken collarbone from the Phillip Island event. Despite this Chili fully intends to ride in Spain, once more showing the grit that has underlined his long and glorious racing career.
Meanwhile Vermeulen's Ten Kate team-mate, Karl Muggeridge
enjoyed a stellar WSS career, and joins the premier series for the first time this year as the reigning WSS champion. Having fielded the worst effects of illness at Qatar and misfortune in Australia, the 30-year-old Gold Coast rider, now based in Andorra and Switzerland, has a lot to look forward to at a track he has already tested on this season.