After four races with three different winners, the 2006 Corona Extra World Superbike championship heads to the pressure cauldron of Valencia this weekend - marking the start of the European campaign.
The series stays in Europe for the majority of the remainder of the 13-round season, with only the final race in South Africa bracketing the Euro-trail. At 4.005km, Valencia packs a lot of action into a stadium style amphitheatre, with its generally tight layout and frequent changes of direction leaving little time for riders to relax.
Virtually all of the top riders on show on the forthcoming weekend have already tested their 2006 equipment at Valencia, some during both private winter tests and then the recent official test session, held in late March.
So far, the entire dynamic of the 2006 championship has been influenced by the return of a previous king; the actions of a reigning monarch, and the quick transition to four-cylinder power by yet another former ruler of the class:
2001 champion Troy Bayliss
has been almost as dominant in races as he has been in testing and Superpole, and the Xerox Ducati star's new circuit record at Valencia in the recent official test will be the new benchmark during qualification for Sunday's two SBK races.
But 2004 champion James Toseland has had a bright start in his first season on a 1000cc four-cylinder machine, at Winston Ten Kate Honda, and currently sits only a point behind Bayliss in the championship table.
Meanwhile, with two race wins and one DNF, 1996 and 2005 champion Troy Corser
sits third in the series for Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra.
The safe money is on Bayliss and Corser to again lead the field at Valencia, with the 999 rider looking to hold the pre-race upper hand, but Toseland remains determined and another Honda rider looks on the brink of his first ever WSBK victory...
Despite not having a full race-ready spec machine until the recent official tests at Misano, former MotoGP veteran Alex Barros has written his name large in the collective consciousness of the World Superbike scene, taking podium finishes and points scores, to leave him fourth in the series for Klaffi Honda.