A serious challenge to the 250GP crown in previous years, Roberto Rolfo
is another fast SBK rookie in the 2006 series, as he takes the field for the Ducati SC Caracchi squad. A one-man effort, the new partnership is nonetheless laden with exciting possibilities.
Rolfo's single rider effort is in great contrast to the three-rider festival of speed fielded by the Pedercini Ducati squad. The eponymous team-leader Lucio Pedercini heads up his countryman Ivan Clementi and the already proven talents of young German rider, Max Neukirchner. The latter is a first time Ducati pilot, yet has already impressed in winter testing - despite not having the newest tyres or a full factory machine at his immediate disposal.
Carrying Kawasaki's colours will be the PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse squad, which will sport a green livery in Qatar and, more importantly, enjoy the benefits of a new design of ZX-10R machine, complete with greater manufacturer support than in 2005.
The team has increased to a three-rider set-up, each of them a proven entity in many forms of motorcycle sport. Walker scored a podium on the 2005 PSG-1 Kawasaki, and has already voted the 2006 version as a distinct improvement after good tests in Sepang and Phillip Island.
Laconi - runner-up to team-mate Toseland in 2004, a multiple SBK race winner last year and one of the few riders to have won both SBK and MotoGP races - is a new face in the squad, while Spanish star Fonsi Nieto
carries on at the team he joined for just two races in 2005. Nieto has already matched times with the more experienced Walker, as the man from Madrid continues the transition from a 250cc past to a Superbike shaped future.
Battaini (Kawasaki Bertocchi) is another proven MotoGP and 250GP rider to opt for the charms of SBK in 2006, and much is expected of the privateer rider in his first season.
The unique Petronas FP-1 triple will once more be campaigned by the Foggy Petronas team, with 2005 signing Martin returning after successful kidney surgery and after having set impressive test times at Phillip Island in January.
Young Briton Craig Jones may find the outgunned FP-1 not an ideal platform from which to launch his rookie SBK season, thanks solely to its 100cc capacity handicap compared to all other types of eligible SBK machines, but his youthful enthusiasm will nonetheless see him gunning for the maximum possible rewards.
In the World Supersport championship, Winston Ten Kate Honda's reigning title holder Sebastien Charpentier may not have things all his own way this year, as a frontal assault of talent and all-new machines attempt to depose last year's clear winner.
Charpentier's new team-mate is 2005 Superstock 1000 FIM Cup runner up Kenan Sofuoglu, but his greatest challenge may come from the two-rider Yamaha Motor Germany squad, now equipped with the all-new R6.