If the many comments that grace stories on Crash.net
are a good indicator of popular opinion in the sport, then this year's World Superbike Championship is destined to be one of the most eagerly anticipated yet.
The countdown seems to have been a long one; from the season-long saga of whether Troy Corser
would switch to BMW, to Noriyuki Haga's surprise move to Ducati, to the influx of British interest, it is almost as if 2009 has been touted as the 'year of World Superbikes' since midway through 2008!
So, with less than a week to go before the first bike turns a competitive wheel in anger during free practice at Phillip Island, Crash.net
will preview the season ahead with five special instalments – after all, with a 32-strong entry list and a myriad of race winning contenders to consider, each deserves more than just a passing mention.
First up, we preview the five British riders that will compete in 2009, before moving on to this year's high-profile rookies, those who have switched teams, those that have stayed put and the many others who make up a mouth-watering grid…
Shane Byrne - Sterilgarda Ducati
Although he won't be one of the two British riders to get factory-funded machinery in 2009, Shane Byrne is nonetheless the one being mentioned in the same breath as 'title contender' and 'surprise package'.
With two British Superbike titles under his belt, credits in MotoGP and even two World Superbike wild-card wins to his name, Byrne's reputation should have been assured long before he simply dominated pre-season testing at Portimao.
Capitalising on having a similar bike to the one he rode to dominant title glory in BSB last year, Byrne has been astonishingly quick out of the box and has made his well regarded rivals looking tardy in comparison.
Such a performance means Byrne has crept into the title reckoning, alongside Noriyuki Haga
on the factory Ducati and fellow rookie Ben Spies already. It wasn't long ago that most were tipping Byrne as an outsider for wins – it seems he could be capable of more this year.
His biggest question mark though is one that will only become apparent as the season wears on. For a privateer team, Sterilgarda are arguably the best - luring Ruben Xaus
and Max Biaggi
for a successful 2008 season is testament to that – but their form at the start of the year was at odds with that at the end.
The same could happen this year. After all, does Ducati appreciate a Ducati title win, or a Xerox Ducati title win?