Team Alstare Suzuki might have worked flat out during the winter to find a replacement for departing sponsor Corona, but only on the eve of the season can general manager Francis Batta confirm the health of his squad.

During November there was a great option with a potential sponsor but, like so many other off-season stories, it failed to come to fruition, even if it remains a possibility for the 2009 season. During difficult times, however, Batta refused to give up his search for a suitable sponsor, as much because he wanted to protect his company and staff and guarantee the continuity of its racing activities.

Alstare took part in the winter tests in Qatar and Australia in order to be competitive at the start of the season, even though it had no sponsor at the time, but fans and World Superbike personnel started to get worried about the team's possible non-participation, especially after it missed the official series presentation at the beginning of February.

The Battas, meanwhile, worked tirelessly to find a suitable replacement until, eventually Francis and Patricia were able to finalise a deal with new partners to guarantee participation in 2008. After months and months of research, meetings and waiting, however, the new bikes will be on the grid in new colours which, while not quite as immediately eye-catching as the old yellow-and-purple livery, will still stand out from Qatar onwards.

The latest title sponsor is, a new Spanish 'virtual' operator for cellular phones which provides mobile communication services using the Vodafone network. Launched in November 2007, together with and, it is one of the newest brands of Pepeworld - a branch of the multinational Globalia group. The sponsorship will be accompanied by contributions from multi-market brand Meyluna and energy drink Dark Dog.

"We have done a lot of work over the winter months and I seem to have spent a lot of time in meetings trying to get everything organised for this season," Francis Batta admitted, "It's been tough, but now I'm looking forward to being at the racetrack and getting involved in the racing again.

"We have an interesting rider line-up this year - a good mixture of experience and youth - and it's going to be fun working with the three different characters throughout the long season ahead and see how they perform. We are under no illusions about how hard this season will be, but we at Alstare Suzuki like this kind of a challenge and will be giving it 100 per cent - as usual."

Yukio Kagayama, Fonsi Nieto and Max Neukirchner make up the three-pronged Alstare attack for the opening round in Doha this weekend, and Kagayama, for one, is eager to get on with the new season.

"Last season was one to forget and I am determined not to have so many hurtful crashes," the Japanese veteran insisted, "The winter tests have gone well and now it's time to see how well we will stack up against our competitors in a race situation. I think that the competition will be even harder then last year, but I am excited about the prospect of lots of tough racing because this is what I enjoy!"

Neukirchner and Nieto come in to fill the sizeable hole left by Max Biaggi, with the German hoping to count on his previous Suzuki experience.

"I feel I know the team and mechanics now, and we are working together really well, but the Suzuki I rode last season was nothing like the Alstare Suzuki, so there has been lots to learn," he admitted, "I am so happy to get this chance with a team like Alstare Suzuki and am determined to give it everything I have, but there are so many good riders this year."

Nieto too admitted that it was taking some time to get used to his new mount, but expected to get to grip with the GSX-R before the first race.

"Every time I rode the bike, I became more and more comfortable with it," the Spaniard revealed, "Testing is one thing though, and now it's time to see how we go in a race. There are so many different factors in a race compared to testing and it's going to be very interesting. Of course, this year is going to be very hard because the series has become stronger and there are many good riders and bikes out there, but I am looking forward to the challenge."