After the excitement of the 2009 World Superbike season-opener at Phillip Island, the championship heads for the Qatar desert with new Ducati Xerox signing Noriyuki Haga at the head of a field bulging with talent.

Despite a poor qualifying position during the new 'knockout' Superpole format, Haga stormed to a confident race one victory at Phillip Island, before being outgunned by Yamaha's star rookie Ben Spies in the second outing.

Spies, the reigning triple AMA Superbike champion, had qualified on pole, but saw his hopes of a race one triumph end when he speared off track on the opening lap. Nevertheless, Spies will start round two fourth in the championship, 20 points behind Haga.

Separating the two title favourites are Max Neukirchner and Leon Haslam. Neukirchner came within a few corners of victory in race one in Australia, before a bobble allowed Haga to pounce, while Haslam earned an excellent third position in race two. The Stiggy Honda rider had been sixth in race one, which was where Neukirchner finished race two.

Neukirchner's Alstare Suzuki team-mate Yukio Kagayama was the only other rider to stand on the Phillip Island podium, with Michel Fabrizio (Ducati Xerox), Jonathan Rea (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda) and the rejuvenated Regis Laconi (DFX Ducati) just falling short.

WSBK now boasts no fewer than seven manufacturers, following the popular addition of Aprilia and BMW. Both machines immediately proved to be competitive in their debut race, with Troy Corser (BMW) recording the fastest lap in race one and Max Biaggi (Aprilia) battling for a podium position right until the very end of race two.

The layout of the Losail circuit should reward the characteristics of the two four-cylinder machines, even more so given the fact that Corser and Biaggi have both won on that track.

Kawasaki is once again playing catch-up relative to its rivals, but with the PBM Motorsport squad still coming to terms with its new machinery and 'official' status significant improvements are expected.

The opening round of the Supersport World Championship offered a thrilling spectacle and Losail will be another chance to see some more slipstreaming action, in particular down the long pit straight.

The favourites are still the two Supersport champions Kenan Sofuoglu and Andrew Pitt, team-mates at Hannspree Ten Kate Honda, but Anthony West (Stiggy Racing Honda) and Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha World Supersport) can't be ruled out while even the young Spanish talent Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki) has winning potential.

Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda) was also on the pace in Australia, while Garry McCoy and Gianluca Nannelli (Triumph) still have to get the new three-cylinder machine up to podium level.

The Losail International Circuit measures 5.380 km, including a main straight of 1068m, and has a total of 16 turns, 10 right and 6 left.

 

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