In the fourth instalment of Crash.net's preview for the World Superbike Championship, we take a look at the few that are staying put for 2009 and assess whether sticking with what they know will help them forge their way up the grid...

Carlos Checa - Ten Kate Honda

History has shown that the transition from MotoGP to Superbikes can be somewhat hit and miss.

Max Biaggi is certainly a good example of how a rider can adapt to a production model having plied his trade on prototypes, although Makoto Tamada would be evidence to the contrary. Carlos Checa, however, definitely falls into the former category after a fine effort during his debut season on the Ten Kate Honda.

Although a mid-season lull went some way to undermining what had been a storming start to his tenure in the series, Checa's fourth place, with two wins, means he should be expected to go even better in 2009.

The highest classified rider from 2008 to remain with the same team in 2009, Checa was one of the default favourites for this year's title early on during the off-season, although fairly average results in off-season testing, where he has been out paced by Jonathan Rea, hasn't helped his cause.

Nonetheless, Checa showed impressive consistency in his maiden season, a trait that isn't so easy to acquire as a rookie. His time in MotoGP has shown he has speed too, so those combined should see Checa up there from the off in 2009.

Max Neukirchner - Alstare Suzuki

The question of whether Max Neukirchner can challenge for the 2009 World Superbike title seems be more about whether Suzuki can provide him with a bike capable of doing so.

Two wins, five podiums and fifth position overall in his first proper season aboard a factory bike showed Neukirchner is a force to be reckoned with - however, not everyone is convinced Suzuki are.

Still, this is a team that knows how to win races and having condensed their efforts down to two bikes for 2009, Neukirchner could benefit from receiving some more concentrated resources for a GSX-R1000 bike that has shown plenty of promise in testing.

Indeed, Neukirchner has been consistently among the top five during testing, while he is another rider who will have learnt a great deal from last year following his surprise, if brief, run to second place in the WSBK standings.

Furthermore, having been tipped to star in 2009 by a number of his rivals, Neukirchner heads to the first round with plenty of ringing endorsements just to boost his confidence further...

Michel Fabrizio - Ducati Xerox

Hardly suffering from the departure of Troy Bayliss, Michel Fabrizio seems to be relishing the prospect of having a new team-mate to challenge at Ducati Xerox in 2009.

Indeed, while the Italian's winless first season with the championship winning team will have caused a few furrowed brows in Ducati, his performances during pre-season testing will have certainly raised his stock.

Ignoring the attention surrounding Noriyuki Haga, Fabrizio has firmly out paced the high-profile arrival in nearly every session during the off-season.

While Haga has undoubtedly taken time to adapt to his new machine, Fabrizio has nonetheless been a consistent figure at the top of the timesheets generally, suggesting he could do more than just break his victory duck in 2009.

Success for Fabrizio will depend on whether he can eradicate some of the 'off' weekends that blighted his maiden season on the Xerox bike, while he will hope the change in Superpole format will boost his chances in qualifying.

Nonetheless, Fabrizio has shown on several occasions that he is a good racer and is often notable for his late race charges. If he can string that form together, then it won't necessarily just be Haga flying the Ducati flag in 2009.

He is the rider many originally tipped would challenge for the 2009 World Superbike title, but Ryuichi Kiyonari's odds have steadily increased as the start of the season has drawn closer.

Although Kiyonari's first season at WSBK level lacked consistency, his sublime performances at Brands Hatch and Donington Park indicated that experience around certain circuits was the key to unlock his ultimate potential.

It means that, with a year under his belt, Kiyonari was expected to be running at the front during testing, but the Japanese rider has instead been consistently one of the slower factory riders. Most notably, he has lacked pace against Jonathan Rea, a rider he has beaten at Superbike level before.

Testing is no substitute for actual racing though, and Kiyonari has shown before that he has a turn of speed that can win races. However, this will be no good if he can't produce it on a regular basis...

Yukio Kagayama - Alstare Suzuki

After a quiet 2008 season that left him outside the top ten overall, Yukio Kagayama is determined to get back to the front of the field in 2009.

Having voiced his disappointment at Suzuki's package towards the end of the 2008 season, Kagayama has shown signs of that he can return to his best this year during testing.

Although he hasn't been quite as quick as team-mate Max Neukirchner, Kagayama is repaying Suzuki's faith in him by breaking the gap down to the German with every outing on the GSX-R1000 K9.

A seasoned race winner, few riders on the grid are as experienced as Kagayama and although the Japanese rider is still renowned for his occasional spills (and subsequent injuries), a good bike from Suzuki could well see him revitalise his reputation as a spectacular racer.

Tomorrow: There are plenty more where that came from... we evaluate the remainder of the grid

 

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