The legendary Monza circuit in Italy host round five of the 2009 World Superbike Championship this weekend.
Present championship leader Noriyuki Haga
has won three of the four races held at Monza in the last two seasons, but he did so on a Yamaha, which this year is now in the hands of rookie Ben Spies.
The two riders have so far dominated the 2009 championship, sharing the wins between them (four apiece) with the points difference coming from Spies' three zeros, including race two at Assen last time out.
But Spies inflicted a thrilling last-lap victory over Haga in race one in Holland and the Monza round offers the Texan a chance to partly reduce the 60-point gap to the Ducati Xerox rider.
Haga meanwhile will be aiming to claim Ducati's first Monza win since 2006, but may face a top speed deficit relative to the four-cylinders.
Last year the battle between Haga and Suzuki's Max Neukirchner set the Monza public alight; the German claiming his first-ever WSBK win by 0.058 seconds in race 1 before Haga took revenge by 0.009 seconds in race two!
Neukirchner and Suzuki have had a mixed start to the 2009 season but the Monza circuit could be the best opportunity so far to show off the power of the Japanese four-cylinder machine and to record Suzuki's first win of the year.
Also looking for a breakthrough performance are Honda Europe's flagship team, Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, with its highly-rated trio of Carlos Checa, Jonathan Rea and Ryuichi Kiyonari.
Amazingly, a Ten Kate machine is yet to finish on the podium and the Dutch team's highest placed rider, class rookie Rea, is only ninth in the standings. Nevertheless, Kiyonari claimed a strong third in race two last season and, like Suzuki, the long straights should suit the CBR1000RR.
Luckily for Honda, Stiggy Racing's Leon Haslam has been producing some great results and the British rider could again emerge as a contender for the podium, if not outright victory. Haslam will start the event third in the championship and on the back of two podiums at Assen.