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.

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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.

With new suspension and engine modifications now at his disposal, Barros is expected to be up front again at Valencia - a circuit he knows well from his long grand prix career, and where he famously beat Valentino Rossi for MotoGP victory in the 2002 season finale.

Rossi and Yamaha have already won in MotoGP this season but - while Andrew Pitt and Noriyuki Haga have enjoyed the taste of podium champagne - they are still chasing the R1's first 2006 win. Other Yamaha entries of note include a rider who was in contention for a podium finish at Valencia in his rookie SBK season of 2005, the otherwise vastly experienced Norick Abe of Yamaha Motor France Ipone.

Another fiercely competitive Japanese rider, Yukio Kagayama was skittled by good friend Haga on his way to a seemingly certain victory at the opening round in Qatar this year, and is another combatant well worth watching in Spain.

Meanwhile, 2004 season World Supersport Champion Karl Muggeridge and SBK legend Pierfrancesco Chili will not be present in Spain, as Muggeridge recovers from a back injury sustained during official testing at the same venue, while home tarmac at Misano proved cruel to Chili, who broke his pelvis last week during an official test.

Muggeridge is to be replaced at Winston Ten Kate Honda, for one race only, by the experienced Italian rider, Giovanni Bussei, with Chili giving way to WSS race winner, Gianluca Nannelli, for a probable four rounds in total.

Chili's DFX Honda team-mate Michel Fabrizio has already proved his speed on his CBR, and lies eighth in the current championship standings, one place behind another former MotoGP rider who has found instant SBK speed, Roberto Rolfo, now riding for Ducati SC Caracchi. The top ten after rounds one and two is completed by two further former grand prix riders, Ruben Xaus (Ducati) and Fonsi Nieto (Kawasaki).

Nieto, who forms one third of the official Kawasaki PSG-1 Corse entry in 2006, has great hopes for his home race, and after a superb showing in the most recent SBK tests at Misano for all three riders, his team-mates, Chris Walker and Regis Laconi, are also looking at a possible challenge to the top places. With so many quick riders in the PSG-1 Kawasaki team this year, rivalries are amiable but strong, and currently forcing Kawasaki on to another level of competitiveness.

The Foggy Petronas squad has enjoyed some significant results at Valencia in the recent past and Steve Martin is fully expected to make an impact on the results at Valencia. His rookie team-mate, Craig Jones, is still earning the subtleties of the unique three-cylinder machine, but has experience of Valencia from the team's testing programme.

The 2006 WSBK season enjoys a regular entry of close on 30 riders at every round, and is bolstered by no less than six wild-cards in Spain - including former race winner Anthony Gobert, riding a Coronas Suzuki.

In the World Supersport championship, Winston Ten Kate Honda's Sebastien Charpentier missed out on the most recent official test at Misano, but in the two rounds so far he hasn't missed out on a single championship point, and thus leads the table by ten points from Yamaha Motor Germany rider Kevin Curtain.

Charpentier's team-mate Kenan Sofuoglu and Curtain's fellow Yamaha rider Broc Parkes are also looking to podium finishes at Valencia, as each has a third and a DNF to their name.

Solid and consistent high points scores have put Scandinavian riders Robbin Harms and Johan Stigefelt, of Stiggy Motorsports Honda, third and fourth - while surprise of the season so far is Christian Zaiser who has shown that the Ducati 749 series has lots of Supersport life left in it yet, especially during the most recent tests.

Megabike Honda's Katsuaki Fujiwara returns to action at Valencia, as he recovers from the broken scaphoid that kept him out of contention at the previous rounds.

After Valencia, the classic city centre speedbowl of Monza will be the next venue for WSBK classes, on Sunday 7 May. After that the first of two British based rounds, at Silverstone on May 28th, welcomes the series.