The World Superbike Championship heads back to Europe for rounds 13 and 14 of the season with the first races to be held at the Nurburgring for the first time in nine years.

Last acting as a WSBK venue in 1999, it was only the second event to be held there after its debut on the calendar in 1998. On those occasions, Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser, Pierfrancisco Chili and Aaron Slight were the winners of the four races.

As such, the German circuit, which also marks the mid-way point of this season, offers a new challenge to most of the riders on the grid, with the level playing field likely to throw up just as many interesting performances this weekend as it did last time out at Miller Motorsports Park in the USA.

That weekend was all about Carlos Checa, who produced his first international victory in ten years with an astonishing ride around the Salt Lake City layout. Going on to double up in the second race, the Spaniard has slashed Troy Bayliss' previously huge championship advantage after the Australian posted his second and third consecutive non-finishes.

Although the five-time race winner still has a relatively comfortable 28 point buffer back to Checa, Bayliss heads to Germany on the back foot after a disappointing run of form, one that included him having a rare fall in the USA.

Indeed, with former MotoGP rider Checa now beginning to get the hang of competing in WSBK's, it is likely he - and Ten Kate Honda - will want to experience that winning feelings once again.

However, while the battle between these two experienced protagonists will be of interest to many, most fans are likely to be turning out for home favourite Max Neukirchner, who has transformed Superbike support in Germany with his stunning form this season.

His determination was certainly in evidence at Miller Motorsports Park, the Suzuki Alstare rider struggling in the early stages of the weekend before chipping down the advantage to the leaders and emerging with dogged second and fourth finishes that help consolidate his third place in the championship. One of the few riders to know the circuit well, courtesy of his time racing there ahead of his move to WSBK, Neukirchner will be confident he can top the rostrum again in the best surroundings possible.

Despite a rather anonymous weekend, Neukirchner's team-mate Fonsi Nieto actually moved up to fourth in the standings with a fifth and eighth place finish, something that was well in contrast to Noriyuki Haga, who slipped to fifth but grabbed all the headlines. Indeed, the Yamaha rider's sixth place finish in the second race of the weekend will still go down as one of the rides of the season having been achieved with a broken collarbone following a tumble in practice. Although not 100 per cent fit yet following surgery, Haga will still complete in Germany.

As the only rider in the field to have won at the Nurburgring before on a world stage, Haga's team-mate Corser will no doubt be feeling confident ahead of this weekend. He needs to be too after a surprise fall in the US that brought an otherwise fine weekend to a premature close.

Ruben Xaus will also be looking for better form after scoring just two points at Miller, while eighth place Michel Fabrizio is keen to build on his performance in the US after scoring a pair of richly-deserved podiums.

Max Biaggi enjoyed his best weekend in the US since the opening round in Qatar with a fourth and ninth place finish on his Sterilgarda Ducati. He remains ninth overall in the standings though, leaving him keen to get back to where he is better accustomed to.

Fresh from their starring roles in the Suzuka 300km, winner Yukio Kagayama and second placed rider Ryuichi Kiyonari will be looking to translate that form back into the WSBK. Currently, Kiyonari is the better placed of the two after a pair of solid points finishes in the USA, although with a race winning bike underneath him, Kagayama will likely be up there if he can dial his Suzuki in.

Elsewhere, Gregorio Lavilla remains the best of the true privateers in 12th, despite a quiet weekend in the USA, one that saw Lorenzo Lanzi and Jakub Smrz close up to him on their independent Ducatis. Other notable performances came from the Alto Evolution Honda team, with Shuhei Aoyama unlucky not to score after showing well in practice and qualifying

Meanwhile, the last of the five manufacturers, Kawasaki, endured another tough weekend in the US, but Regis Laconi was at least pleased with another top ten finish after falling in the first race. After a significant improvement in qualifying however, they will look to challenge more consistently at the Nurburgring.

Previous Seasons

The seasons were 1998 and 1999, when both were dominated by Britain's Carl Fogarty on a Ducati.

Fogarty holds the qualifying record at the German track, 1 minute 38.842 seconds, while the lap record in the race belongs to his team-mate at the time, Troy Corser, in 1 minute 39.328 seconds.

In 1998, when the track was wet, race 1 saw a 1-2 for the Castrol Honda team, with Aaron Slight finishing ahead of Colin Edwards, while Pierfrancesco Chili took third on a Ducati. In the second race the Italian rider totally dominated proceedings and powered to the clear win, almost 12" ahead of Edwards and Corser.

The following year Carl Fogarty was again the protagonist of the weekend on the factory Ducati. In race 1 the British champion easily won from Aaron Slight and Troy Corser, while in the second race he surprisingly crashed, probably due to a lack of concentration.

At that point something curious happened. When Corser, in third, saw that his team-mate was in the gravel, his lap times immediately started to improve and he eventually caught Slight to win the race. The final podium place went to Akira Yanagawa on a Kawasaki.

About the Nurburgring

The new N?rburgring was completed in 1984 and called GP-Strecke. It was built to meet the highest safety standards, but was considered to be a shadow of the former 22.8 km Nordschleife circuit. World Superbike came to the Nurburgring in 1998 but following the second and final edition in 1999, the more recent German Rounds have since been held at Oschersleben and the Lausitzring.

For 2002, the track was changed, by replacing the former "Castrol-chicane" at the end of the start/finish straight by a sharp right-hander in order to create an overtaking opportunity. This and further changes extended the GP track from 4500m to its current 5137m. The N?rburgring is situated 90 km southwest of Cologne and 60 km northwest of Koblenz. The closest airports are K?ln-Bonn (80 km) and D?sseldorf (120 km).