The World Superbike championship returns to Brno in the Czech Republic for the first time since 1996 this weekend, with Alstare Suzuki's Troy Corser looking to increase his points advantage by repeating his 1996 double race success, claimed as a Ducati rider.
Currently 73 points in the lead, with exactly half the season completed, Corser is in an enviable championship position, but the knowledge that he has not won a race since Monza, way back in May, has given his main competitors a ray of hope.
Winston Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR rider Chris Vermeulen moved into second position in the overall championship chase at the previous Misano round, thanks to a brace of second places which brought his total of podium finishes this year to six.
With an uphill struggle on his hands to catch the fleeing Corser, he nonetheless pegged back some points at Misano, but the sweltering Italian event was ruled by factory Ducati rider Regis Laconi – who has now won three of the last four events.
Laconi and reigning world champion team-mate James Toseland have also had their Brno hopes boosted by being one of several teams to have recently tested at the Czech track. The track time also allowed Pirelli to gain a good working knowledge of the Brno surface, and lap times are expected to be competitive from the first session to the final race on Sunday.
But while Honda and Ducati have managed to close the early performance gap to Suzuki, Yamaha have endured a tough 2005 to date - claiming just on podium, at Silverstone, courtesy of Noriyuki Haga. However, Haga, Andrew Pitt and Norick Abe can all count on MotoGP experience at Brno.
Also claiming one podium so far this season, although with far less factory backing, is Kawasaki, with PSG-1 rider Chris Walker taking third in race two at Valencia and making further, slightly less spectacular, progress when the opportunities arise.
Meanwhile, Foggy Petronas riders Steve Martin and Garry McCoy have had an expectedly difficult 2005 season so far on the somewhat outgunned 900cc Petronas three-cylinder, but the more recent races have been occasionally more productive for them.
Martin rode into the top 20 overall after the Misano round, while his Aussie countryman McCoy had his best race meeting of the year at Valencia, scoring three championship points in one race.
The World Supersport championship heads to Brno after a season largely dominated by Winston Ten Kate Honda riders Sebastien Charpentier and Katsuaki Fujiwara, although the recent Misano round proved the sharpest test yet for would-be champion Charpentier.
However, the Frenchman's team-mate Fujiwara will miss this weekend's event, following a fiery fall while testing for the Suzuka 8 Hours, and will be replaced by British star Craig Jones - famed for his sliding style.
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