New father Peter Goddard will have two reasons to celebrate his comeback to the World Superbike Championship motorcycle series when it resumes at Misano in Italy this Sunday.

The 36-year-old Australian rider goes into the eighth round fresh from celebrating the birth of his first child, and he will also provide Italian manufacturer Benelli with its long-awaited debut in the championship.

Goddard, whose partner Kim Wilhelmi gave birth to a daughter, Demi Anne, last Friday, will contest the two championship races at Misano on a three-cylinder Benelli Tornado 900.

"It's been a fantastic time for Kim and I, and now I've got a big week coming up with the first race on the new Benelli superbike," said Goddard.

"There has been a huge amount of work into getting this new bike up and running, and everyone involved in the project is excited now that we are finally going racing."

The Tornado's debut in the championship follows an extensive testing and development program this year by Goddard and the San Marino-based Benelli Sport team.

Goddard has tested for a total of 13 days this year, mostly at Misano, and said he had been encouraged by the improvement of the Benelli, especially with the latest-specification engine which features a 240-degrees firing order.

On June 15 Goddard clocked a best lap time of 1-min 36.78-secs around the 4km Misano circuit in a test attended by leading championship riders and teams. His time was only 1.20-secs outside the race lap record of 1-min 35.98-secs set by Australia's Troy Corser on an Aprilia in 2000.

"We've brought our lap times down by almost three-seconds-a-lap in the past couple of months, and I'm really happy with the suspension and chassis package," said Goddard.

"The new engine has an extra eight horsepower, compared to what we had been running before, and that's made a big difference. It has the latest-spec cylinder heads and bigger inlet valves, and it's also smoother through the entire range, and easier on the clutch and gearbox."

"In the last few seasons I have raced four cylinder and 'Twin' superbikes - I feel our engine has the smoothness and RPM character of a four cylinder, with the torque and acceleration of the 'Twins'."

"Overall we're probably still down on horsepower from where we'd like to be, but we've got an engine development program in place. We've reached the point where we need to do some racing with what we've got and keep working away on the areas that need improving."

Goddard raced in the championship fulltime as a works rider in 1998 for Suzuki, and the following year with Aprilia. In 2000 he contested selected for the factory-backed Kawasaki Racing Team, before joining the Benelli project this year.

He confirmed he would race on Dunlop tyres at Misano, and said his main goal for the round was to finish both races. "We're starting from scratch and we need to finish races and collect as much data as possible," said Goddard. "Having said that our lap times in testing indicate that we may surprise some people with how competitive we can be."

"The aim this year is to keep closing the gap on the teams that have been in the championship for many years, so that we are in a good position for next season."

Goddard said a factor in the Tornado superbike's rapid improvement this year was the enthusiasm and commitment to the project by Benelli and it's Managing Director Andrea Merloni, project leader Riccardo Rosa, team manager Claudio DeLuzio, and support staff.

"This is a huge undertaking for Benelli," said Goddard. "The racing department has grown from about 10 people to 25 and the facilities have been expanded to get things done in the shortest possible time."

Australia's Troy Bayliss leads this year's World Superbike Championship on a Ducati with 205 points. He is followed by Castrol Honda-mounted American Colin Edwards on 182, and Corser on 163.

Goddard finished eighth in both championship races at Misano in 2000 on a Kawasaki. He has two championship race wins to his credit, in the Australian rounds in 1989 at Oran Park and the following year at Phillip Island, on Yamahas. His other career results include 17 grand prix starts in the 500cc world championship, winning the All-Japan 500cc championship in 1991, and two top-three podium finishes in the Suzuka Eight-Hour endurance event.

The first Benelli motorcycle was built in 1921, and the production Tornado was launched in 1999. Benelli's past racing achievements include winning the 250cc world championship twice, with Italian Dario Ambrosini in 1950, and Australia's Kel Carruthers in 1969.

Misano - Superbike fast facts:

Circuit length: 4km
Race lap record: 1-min 35.986-secs, Troy Corser (Aust) Aprilia
2000 Pole position: 1-min 34.904-secs, Troy Corser (Aust) Aprilia
2000 Race Winners: Race 1 & 2: Troy Corser (Aust) Aprilia)

Championship points (after round 7): Bayliss 205, Edwards 182, Corser 163, Chili 143, Hodgson 131, Bostrom 102, Yanagawa 99, Lavilla 87, Okada 82, Chambon 75