The 'phoney war' finally ends at Qatar this Saturday, when the secrecy of pre-season testing is shattered by the roaring reality of the 2006 World Superbike Championship season opener.
An eye watering entry of almost 30 permanent riders (representing six manufacturers) contains three WSBK champions - reigning title holder Troy Corser, returning 2001 champion Troy Bayliss
and 2004 winner James Toseland - while Alex Barros, Ruben Xaus, Roberto Rolfo
and Franco Battaini have confirmed WSBK's growing status by joining Bayliss in the switch from MotoGP.
Those five have been 'traded' for 2005 WSBK runner-up Chris Vermeulen, who moves the opposite way, but - in addition to Corser and Toseland - the grand prix group will face fierce competition for SBK glory from the likes of Noriyuki Haga, Lorenzo Lanzi, Karl Muggeridge, Yukio Kagayama, Pierfranceso Chili, Andrew Pitt, Chris Walker, Regis Laconi
and Steve Martin.
2006 will be the third year of Pirelli control tyre competition - a ruling that was predicted to cripple the championship, but has instead helped to produce arguably the most technically equal road racing world championship on two wheels. The close racing has in turn helped rebuild SBK's prestige in the face of a sustained four-stroke MotoGP onslaught, while simultaneously convincing manufacturers and star riders to participate in the production championship.
For reigning double WSBK champion Corser, Losail will mark the first of 13 rounds over which he will aim to keep his coveted prize - and further confirm his place among the all-time SBK greats. With 31 race wins to his credit, the Alstare Suzuki rider is already tied for second (with Colin Edwards) on the all-time win list and eager to prove his talent against the highly rated 2006 grid.
Corser will be teamed with Yukio Kagayama
once again this season and the Japanese, who took a race win at Qatar last season, will be out to prove that his mid-season dip in form was a never-to-be-repeated aberration, as he sets about his task with his usual mix of experience and unrivalled exuberance.
While Corser and Kagayama will ride the 'official' factory backed Suzukis, there will be four permanent GSXR1000 riders this year with a third rider in Alstare colours, 2002 World Supersport Champion Fabien Foret, plus the Celani Team Suzuki Italia machine of 2002 European Superstock Champion, Vittorio Iannuzzo.
However, the Suzuki number one is undoubtedly Corser - who starts the year as the man to beat, but is expected to face a stiff challenge from fellow Australian Bayliss in what is being dubbed 'the battle of the Troys'.
Returning to his 'alma mater' after a MotoGP career punctuated by podium finishes, Bayliss has been on fire in testing, readapting to the latest Ducati 999 in record time; all despite the lingering effects of a severe left forearm injury, suffered late last year on a Camel Honda MotoGP machine.