20 April 2006
Preview - Valencia.
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.
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