In the latest instalment of Crash.net's preview for the World Superbike Championship, we take a look at the non-British rookies who will be aiming to re-write the rules in 2009...
Ben Spies – Yamaha Italia
There has rarely been so much of a buzz around a WSBK rookie as there is currently surrounding Ben Spies.
Even before the American's name was linked with a move to the premier Superbike series, Spies was being tipped as the country's new motorcycling star after dominating the domestic scene and catching the attention of several MotoGP teams.
Of course, Suzuki's hesitance - and subsequent refusal - to grant him a factory bike in MotoGP has been well documented, but their loss has undoubtedly been Yamaha, and WSBK's, gain.
Readers of Crash.net
will be familiar with how well Spies is regarded amongst those in the know, although it is his headline grabbing performances in pre-season that have gone on to add cynics to his army of fans.
It means that while Spies heads into 2009 as a rookie - and not even one with a full MotoGP season under his belt like Max Biaggi
or Carlos Checa
before him -, his reputation has alone marked him out as a title contender.
Obvious talent and a fine bike aside, Spies' biggest stumbling block is likely to be his lack of knowledge around certain circuits. Although testing in Portugal, South Africa and Australia hasn't appeared to cause too many problems for Spies so far, it remains to be seen whether the pressure of a race weekend could prove more telling.
If he can overcome this, then Spies really could have a genuine shot at the title on speed alone – not to mention remind MotoGP what they have missed out on…
Shinya Nakano – Aprilia
Although it seems strange to call a rider with so many years of MotoGP experience a 'rookie', Shinya Nakano probably still has less Superbike experience than most having plied his trade in GP racing for around a decade.
Nonetheless, having been frozen out the remaining seats that were available in MotoGP, Nakano will jump at the opportunity to help Aprilia with their ambitious new WSBK project.