The Eastern coast of Italy plays host to the third round of an increasingly unpredictable 2004 World Superbike Championship, after two previous events of alternating fortunes for the top contenders.

Valencia saw James Toseland and Noriyuki Haga secure the first laurels of the year, with the second round in Australia providing wins for Toseland's factory Ducati team-mate Regis Laconi and former MotoGP star Garry McCoy.

King of Superpole is undoubtedly Laconi, who has dominated both sessions so far, but only once has his practice prowess been converted into a race finish - albeit a win - and thus one of the pre-season favourites will be looking to Misano simply as a chance to claw his way up the championship table from tenth.

The top of the table is headed by the more consistent point's scorer James Toseland, but the following pack of riders - Frankie Chili, Garry McCoy and Chris Vermeulen - are bunched up in a competitive manner, with only six points separating the top four.

In overall second place, despite some pronounced set-up issues with his new 999 Ducati, Pierfrancesco Chili has used both his 2004 and 2003 spec machines in races this year. Chili may find that Misano, his home round and a circuit where he has won a World Superbike race in the past, is the very place to take his first win of the year.

The fact that only one man in the present championship line up, Troy Corser, has won a race at Misano in past seasons makes pre-race predictions something of a lottery.

Of the other top entrants, two stand out as having been unfortunate so far this season, DFX Ducati's Steve Martin was robbed of a maiden win when his engine experienced in Australia, while the upsurge of young Briton Leon Haslam has yet to be translated into the high finish his talents deserve.

As well as the aforementioned Ducati entries, the field also comprises several top-flight riders on competitive multi-cylinder machines, led by Vermeulen's Ten Kate Honda Fireblade.

The young Australian and his new machine have been the revelation of the season so far, taking podiums with what is a rapidly developing (yet still surprisingly standard) motorcycle.

Meanwhile, Martin's team-mate Marco Borciani has proved his abilities with an overall championship sixth place, while the top Kawasaki rider is his countryman Mauro Sanchini in ninth place overall.

The unique three-cylinder Petronas FP-1, operated by the Foggy Petronas Team, has propelled one of its two factory pilots to the podium places, as Chris Walker secured a third at Valencia. His team-mate, Troy Corser, the 1996 Champion on Ducati, will be desperate to equal or better that result, and is the only top rider in the current field to have taken wins at Misano in SBK.

The SBK wildcards for the Misano race include big name rider Doriano Romboni (on a Yamaha) plus five other 'one-off' competitors.

In the World Supersport Championship, also entering round three, point's leader Jurgen van den Goorbergh holds a 11 point advantage over Yamaha Italia team-mate Fabien Foret, with a surprise Yamaha 1-2-3 completed by Phillip Island runner-up Kevin Curtain (Yamaha Motor Germany).

Top regular Suzuki rider is Katsuaki Fujiwara in fifth place, with new Ducati entry Lorenzo Lanzi (Ducati Breil) sixth.

But main surprise is that the superb qualifying performances from Ten Kate Honda riders Broc Parkes and Karl Muggeridge have yet to be turned into big points scores and both will be out to attack the Yamaha dominance this weekend.