Forming the second prong in a fierce factory Ducati Xerox attack is double race winner Lorenzo Lanzi. His two 2005 race wins came in his rookie season, and each success underlined that a new Italian talent was in town - but can he keep up with Bayliss?
Completing the preseason trio of proven title contenders - alongside Corser and Bayliss - is Haga, in whom Yamaha Italia has a proven race winner. Third in the championship last year, 'Nitro Nori' now has one season with the R1 under his belt and faces his best chance since 2000 of a first world title.
Pitt's battling qualities and front-running in '05 saw him re-signed for his second season alongside Haga, and a podium finish is his first priority for 2006. Former grand prix hero Norick Abe has a similar aim as the Japanese again leads the Yamaha Motor France charge.
Abe's team-mate of 2005, Sebastien Gimbert, is also back once more but the team also features new talent ion the form of Japanese rider Shinichi Nakatomi, who will run a different suspension set-up from his immediate peers.
Honda's hopes will again be lead by the factory backed Winston Ten Kate Team, which has drafted in Toseland to replace Vermeulen alongside Muggeridge. JT suffered a disappointing title defence at Ducati Xerox last year, claiming one win on his way to fifth, but is determined to rebuild his reputation during his first four-cylinder season. For Muggeridge, the first 2006 target will be a debut SBK podium.
Battling with the Ten Kate duo for the honour of top Honda will undoubtedly be Barros, who has joined a one man Klaffi team after ending a grand prix career of record breaking proportions. Although deprived of anything like an adequate pre-season testing programme, the Sao Paolo superstar has already proven his SBK ability during Suzuka 8-Hour appearances and is firmly focussed on finally winning a world title.
Despite being 36 years of age, Barros is by no means the elder statesman of SBK racing. That honour, along with many race wins over the years, goes to a certain Pierfrancesco Chili, who is currently 41 years young. Chili's latest challenge is to run in an all-Italian Honda team, in conjunction with traditional SBK participants, DFX Treme.
He shares garage space with a new talent to the Superbike ranks, Michel Fabrizio. The squad thus features the oldest rider in the series with one of the youngest, as Fabrizio is only 21. The Italian has been promoted from World Supersport where he enjoyed a modicum of success last year. Fabrizio's raw talents have already delivered him the 2003 European Superstock Championship and his experience also includes four-stoke MotoGP rides, despite his tender years.
Meanwhile, despite the growing four-cylinder presence, a total of eight full time Ducati riders will be in attendance at Qatar, the factory squad heading an impressive array of proven desmo-powered talent, plus the odd new inductee.
Spanish star Xaus (Sterilgarda Berik Ducati) teams up with Marco Borciani this year, even if he may not be able to ride in the first couple of rounds, thanks to an injury suffered in training. A serial race winner in the 2003 season, Xaus is expected to make a strong impact once fully fit.
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