The evocative and historic venue of Monza hosts World Superbike once more this coming Sunday, with this - the oldest permanent racing circuit in Europe - always one of the most popular venues on the WSBK calendar.
Set in former Royal Parkland, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza is a blisteringly fast ribbon of tarmac, with challenging corners as well as high speed sections testing courage and skill far more than the simple looking circuit layout may first suggest.
With extensive reworking carried out on the circuit's facilities in 2004, yet the basis of the modern circuit laid on sections of the original 1922 track, Monza is a fascinating mix of old and new. The original oval banking, used for high-speed record attempts for decades, rings most of the current circuit.
The current WSBK Monza track shows average lap times to be - despite the huge numbers of speed-attenuating chicanes – still over 190kmph or 118mph. Of all the current WSBK competitors only Pierfrancesco Chili and Regis Laconi have won Monza Superbike races; Chili four times in total, with Laconi taking the double last season.
Despite so many attendances at the Monza circuit the current championship leader Troy Corser has never quite taken a win at the Autodromo Nazionale, something he will be favourite to rectify this year aboard the dominating Alstare Suzuki. In contrast to Corser's near perfect five-wins-from-six record so far, even his team-mate Yukio Kagayama's challenge slowed somewhat at the last round at Valencia in Spain, with the looming threats now seeming to come from other four-cylinder manufacturers, Honda and Kawasaki.
Valencia saw Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR rider Chris Vermeulen score two second place finishes, and even more pleasingly for the non-partisan WSBK fans, Kawasaki re-emerged as a true threat, with Chris Walker on the PSG-1 Kawasaki machine also tasting top-three champagne, in race two. The presently all-conquering Suzukis have been fastest out of the starting blocks this year, but Honda and Kawasaki have already shown that any of the current breeds of litre road bikes can form the basis of a race-winning challenge.
The factory Ducati squad, and the few Ducati privateers in the series this season, will be hoping that home advantage for their machinery will turn the recent tides of their fortune.
After an unfortunate entanglement with a back marker in morning warm-up at Valencia, Factory Xerox Ducati rider Regis Laconi could not start either Spanish race and dropped down the leader board, to sit fourth in the current rankings. 2004 champion James Toseland, Laconi's team-mate, has had a troubled start to his championship campaign continue through all three rounds and six races to date, his tenth place in the championship a true reflection of how hard his title defence has been.
Ducati privateer Lorenzo Lanzi on the SC Carrachi machine will be present at Monza, albeit still recuperating from collarbone surgery after a high-speed crash at Valencia, when avoiding a competitor's somersaulting motorcycle.