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.

The relatively new technical rules and regulations in World Superbike, combined with the latest generation of Japanese road going machinery, have allowed several new and existing WSBK teams to mount serious challenges, even with riders new to the whole discipline of Superbike racing.

Yamaha's multi-pronged effort is being led at present by an WSBK rookie - yet experienced Grand Prix competitor - Norick Abe, currently fifth overall for the Yamaha Fance team. One of several former WSS Champions in the field, Andrew Pitt, on the Factory Yamaha motor Italia bike, has had a fraught but fast introduction to his WSBK career, frequently running with the leaders. Abe's team-mate Sebastien Gimbert is another fast rookie who has shown his speed more than once.

Proven World Supersport runners in the biggest league this year, Klaffi Honda, have adopted the most experienced current SBK competitor of all, Pierfrancesco Chili, and promoted 2004's WSS Rookie of the Year Max Neukirchner. Having already been on the podium, Neukirchner is one of the stars of the show after only three rounds. Chili and Neukirchner have each lost points due to high speed falls, but enter Monza with the knowledge that they should be giving nothing away in terms of outright performance to any of their rivals. Karl Muggeridge is another high-profile WSBK rookie this year with the Winston Ten Kate Honda team, showing his obvious speed despite some misfortunes in race situations.

Ben Bostrom returned to the top ten fold at Valencia, overcoming some early season machinery issues just as soon as his technical package was completed. Both Bostrom and his Renegade team are serial WSBK race winners, and want to return to their days of glory before the season is out. Noriyuki Haga is an old sparring partner of Bostrom's and also awaits his first 2005 season podium, with his return to the Yamaha fold with the Motor Italia team.

Aussie pairing Garry McCoy and Steve Martin front-up the Petronas attack this year, running the unique three-cylinder 900s in their recently updated guise. Results in races have not quite matched some of their impressive qualifying performances, but it seems only a matter of time before one of the experienced duo rejoins the elite.

At Monza, most of the other 1000cc machines may just be too much for either Petronas runner to overcome, but in the case of bad weather, anything will be possible. Another technical interest will be present at Monza, as Italian wild card Andrea Mazzali points at the future for an historic racing manufacturer with ambition, riding a privately entered MV Agusta F4 1000 MT.

In Supersport Winston Ten Kate Honda rider Sebastien Charpentier has shown strength and pace to secure two wins from three, and the championship lead. His team-mate Katsuaki Fujiwara has shown that the Ten Kate squad is once more the team to beat in World Supersport; especially now they are armed with a heavily revised CBR600RR. Currently sitting 1-2 in the championship, with all race wins taken between them thus far, their main competitors are Yamaha Motor Germany pilot Kevin Curtain and the Team Italia Megabike Honda runners Fabien Foret and Michel Fabrizio. When fully fit, Broc Parkes, Curtain's Yamaha Germany team-mate, will be another serious threat to the Honda hegemony.