The Corona Extra Superbike World Championship makes the first of two visits to Great Britain this weekend, when Silverstone hosts round five of the 2006 series.

Britain's F1 track is now a firm favourite on the WSBK calendar, originally hosting WSBK over its full layout in 2002 and most recently in its shorter, National layout, used for the first time in 2005.

The 3.561km shot circuit features a plethora of challenges, with the slow corners of the Brooklands and Luffield complexes ensuring that any top speed advantages can be made up during braking - delivering close battles throughout the field.

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For the majority of SBK stars about to descend on Silverstone there is one clear mission in mind: To try and beat championship leader Troy Bayliss and - in all probability - score both wins in the process.

Bayliss has been in stunning form of late, winning the last five races on the bounce for Ducati Xerox, but his rivals can take some heart from the fact that he has never ridden on the current layout, while in World Superbike trim.

Nearest to Bayliss is Alstare Suzuki's 2005 champion Troy Corser, with British favourite James Toseland - who took a memorable home race win last season - in third for new team Ten Kate Honda.

Such is the competitiveness behind the consistent Bayliss and Corser that Toseland leads Klaffi Honda's Alex Barros and Yamaha Italia's Noriyuki Haga by only two and four points respectively. 'Rookie' Barros is looking for his first SBK win, while Haga is looking for his first win of 2006. The three races Bayliss hasn't won this year have been claimed by Corser (two) and Toseland (one).

Haga's team-mate Andrew Pitt, the 2001 World Supersport champion, lies sixth in the championship currently, partly thanks to his first career World Superbike podium at Qatar, but mostly due to an impressive level of front running consistency, whatever his final race positions.

In overall seventh place is Bayliss's team-mate Lorenzo Lanzi, who has shown flashes of brilliance - and his double podium at Valencia, in round four, demonstrated that he still has the ability to run at the front - but he badly needs to emerge from Troy's shadow.

Thus far the most consistent, and highest scoring private rider is former MotoGP runner Roberto Rolfo, now at Ducati SC Caracchi. Almost crowned champion in the 250 GP class in 2003, Rolfo has powered his booming vee-twin to a personal best of fifth in Australia race one, and for him Silverstone will be another new experience.

A talented top ten is completed by Yamaha Motor France rider Norick Abe in ninth place, with the top Kawasaki runner Fonsi Nieto - only three points behind Abe.

Such has been the increased level of talent and equipment in World Superbike this season that many big names still reside outside the top ten places overall. Michel Fabrizio (DFX Treme Honda), Ruben Xaus (Sterilgarda Berik Ducati), Chris Walker (PSG-1 Kawasaki), Regis Laconi (PSG-1 Kawasaki) and Karl Muggeridge (Winston Honda Ten Kate) are currently, after eight races, separated by only six points.

For Walker, Silverstone is a home race, and with huge local support 'The Stalker' will be going all out to turn the Kawasaki's obvious potential into a solid gold podium result.

One front-running name missing so far is that of Corser's team-mate Yukio Kagayama, currently in an artificially low 16th place overall. The Japanese came within half a lap of winning race one in Qatar, before being hit by Haga, and has suffered further back luck since - but Yuki enjoys any race in the UK, having been a leading BSB rider before his move up to World Superbike, and will be looking to reverse his fortunes this weekend.

For the Foggy Petronas squad, based in Burton-Upon-Trent, Silverstone is a short cross-country hop away, and the tight nature of some parts of the track will be good news for Steve Martin and Craig Jones. Local boy Jones will have his first chance to impress in front of his home crowd and, after many years of UK competition, knows all the intimate secrets of the Silverstone track.

British fans, robbed of the chance to see Pierfrancesco Chili on track, due to injury, will nonetheless be able to get their programmes signed by the most experienced rider in SBK in the pre-race autograph sessions. Ebullient Italian Gianluca Nannelli once more replaces Chili, while former WSS rider Josh Brookes takes over the Bertocchi Kawasaki ride vacated by Franco Battaini.

Meanwhile, Silverstone will also host the second open paddock of the season, giving the public the maximum chance of meeting their favourite riders and getting a treasured autograph along the way. There will be two open paddock sessions, one on Thursday 25th May (from 2pm) and one on Saturday 27th May (from 12.30pm to 12.45pm).

On Thursday, in anticipation of the forthcoming World Cup football competition, key World Superbike riders will also don their national colours for the 'Silverstone World Cup'. This crowd-pleasing contest is a 'beat the keeper' penalty competition, against the clock. The 'Silverstone World Cup' will take place in the middle of the circuit, close to the paddock.

Until the previous Monza round, 2005 World Supersport champion Sebastien Charpentier was in danger of providing a virtual whitewash in this normally highly competitive class - but it was not to be in Italy. Third for Charpentier, after a jump-start penalty and a further excursion up an escape road, seemingly left the way open for his biggest challenger so far, Yamaha Motor Germany rider Kevin Curtain.

A technical failure for his machine, however, finally left the way open for two of a new breed of youthful Supersport talents; Yoann Tiberio (Megabike Honda) and Robbin Harms (Stiggy Motorsports Honda). Tiberio's win, in only his fourth World Supersport race, ignited the championship's profile all over again, and with Harms second the immediate battle for second is a fascinating prospect for Silverstone.

There are several other potential Silverstone podium finishers. Charpentier's Winston Ten Kate Honda team-mate Kenan Sofuoglu and Curtain's fellow Yamaha rider Broc Parkes are two obvious candidates, plus of course the immense Supersport talent that is Tiberio's team-mate Katsuaki Fujiwara.

Once more Scottish rider Stuart Easton will ride the Ducati SC Caracchi machine, and will be looking to build on an impressive sixth place at Monza at a circuit he knows well, while British WSS series regular, Tom Tunstall will also be eager to impress on his Hardinge Ice Valley Honda.

Misano, the scene of one of this year's official test sessions, is the venue for the sixth round of the World Superbike series, and takes place between 23 and 25 June.