The World Superbike championship returns to Misano for the 17th time in its 20 year history this weekend - but plenty of new challenges await the 2007 competitors.
Since last season, Misano has been resurfaced, slightly redesigned and - most radically of all - reversed. The slightly lengthened 4.180km layout has already been tested by some of the championship's big names, but until the full heat of June has soaked into the tarmac few believe that the full nature of the track will unveil itself.
Hannspree Ten Kate Honda's James Toseland is still the leading the world championship but, after a brave eighth place finish - following a fall - in the one and only wet Silverstone race, the championship chase has tightened considerably with Yamaha Motor Italia's Noriyuki Haga now 23 points behind Toseland, with twelve races to go.
Alstare Suzuki Corona Extra 'rookie' Max Biaggi is 13 points behind Haga but only 12 ahead of Silverstone race winner and reigning double champion Troy Bayliss, of the Ducati Xerox Team. Any one of those four riders is still more than capable of winning the series outright, with only 48 points between long-term leader Toseland and the relentless Bayliss.
Former double world champion Troy Corser has already tested at Misano, like team-mate Haga and countryman Bayliss, which should help his early charge towards cutting the gap back to the leading four. Bayliss is now some 38 points ahead of Corser, but Corser has almost that same level of advantage (35 points) back to overall sixth place rider, Lorenzo Lanzi.
Lanzi, riding the second factory Ducati, is going for podium number two of his 2007 season campaign and, like his closest rival Ruben Xaus, was present for the Misano test. Sterilgarda Ducati rider Xaus is a previous Misano race winner, and has been a victor at the similarly tight and twisty circuit of Valencia this season.
Toseland's team-mate Roby Rolfo was cruelly robbed of at least one podium finish at an Italian round this year, but he hopes to eradicate the disappointment of missing out at Monza by posting another strong display in his second year of SBK competition.
Max Neukirchner has an SBK podium finish to his name already, albeit way back in 2005, and of the current privateer bunch, his is the leading rider, in ninth place on a year-old Suzuki.
PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse team-mates Regis Laconi and Fonsi Nieto have not had the happiest of seasons so far, but an equal-best season performance of fifth in the wet at Silverstone slotted Laconi back into the top ten again, for only the second time in 2007. Nieto is currently 13th, with only six points scores to his name so far. Biaggi's Suzuki team-mate Yukio Kagayama is also yet to take a podium during 2007.
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