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.

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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.

Haslam will be flanked in the Swedish team by American Jake Zemke, who will step in for the injured John Hopkins for the Monza round.

On their home track Italian riders and manufacturers will also be searching for their slice of glory and expectation is especially high to see how well the Aprilia RSV4 will go on such a fast circuit.

In the races so far the four-cylinder machine from Noale has demonstrated top speed on a par with its rivals and it could come to the fore on a track where slipstreaming plays such a vital role.

On the rider front both Max Biaggi (Aprilia) and Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) will be trying to score a first win for an Italian at Monza since Pierfrancesco Chili in 2000.

Biaggi is still dealing with the Aprilia RSV4's teething problems, but the potential is there, while Fabrizio is looking to emulate Haga's speed and consistency as he seeks to join the ranks of race winners.

The opening rounds showed that BMW Motorrad are finding it difficult to make their S 1000 RR machine competitive on technical circuits, but Monza will be an ideal opportunity to get the new bike closer to the front-runners.

Troy Corser, a previous winner in 2005, and Ruben Xaus know the track like the back of their hands and their experience will be vital in the team's attempts to obtain some good results, especially in view of the second half of the season.

BSB champion Shane Byrne meanwhile will hope that victory in the Italian Championship round at Monza will give him the boost he needs to kick-start his season for Sterilgarda Ducati, while countryman Tom Sykes will be trying to emerge from team-mate Spies' shadow at Yamaha Italia's home event.

Monza has been part of Superbike since 1990 and this year marks its 18th edition. With a lap of 5.793 km Monza is the longest circuit on the calendar and its long straights, wide curves and fast chicanes all help to exalt the power of the bikes, which remain at full throttle for over 50% of the lap.

Monza has been the scene for many epic slip-streaming battles in the past, and the winners include all the top names in Superbike racing.

The most successful rider of all time at Monza is Troy Bayliss, with six wins to his name, followed by a trio on four made up of Pierfrancesco Chili, Carl Fogarty and Fabrizio Pirovano.

Amongst current SBK riders, the most successful is Noriyuki Haga on 3, followed by Regis Laconi on 2 and Max Neukirchner on 1. In the manufacturers ranking, Ducati leads the way with 17 wins, followed by Yamaha (7), Honda (6), Suzuki (3) and Kawasaki (1).

Meanwhile, the World Supersport Championship is enjoying a thrilling season, with the title top three of Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha World Supersport), Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda) and Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) separated by just nine points.

But there are numerous other contenders for victory, including reigning champion Andrew Pitt (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), plus Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda), Fabien Foret (Yamaha World Supersport) and Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Provec), one of the most interesting youngsters around in Supersport.

They could be joined by Michele Pirro (Yamaha Lorenzini), the most competitive Italian at the moment. Pirro won the domestic championship CIV race at Monza on Sunday and has fully recovered from his crash at Assen.