An early start to the 2005 Corona Extra World Superbike season has seen the first two races already decided, at Qatar on 26th February. After Suzuki riders monopolised the top step of each podium at the Losail International Circuit, the forthcoming test session at Valencia offers the rest of the 30-rider SBK grid the chance to prepare their next challenges to this early Suzuki supremacy.
The first two races in the 12-round/24-race World Superbike season were taken by Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki riders Troy Corser and Yukio Kagayama respectively, with the lone Xerox Ducati of 2004 season runner-up Regis Laconi interjecting a vee-twin boom into the 1000cc four-cylinder wails. With so many strong entries from the main Japanese manufacturers, and Ducati fielding six competitive riders - including world Champion James Toseland (Xerox Ducati) - the competition for wins will be the greatest ever - no mean feat for a championship now in its 18th year.
World Superbike's outstanding level of competitiveness this season is the result of not only an invigorated gridful of world class riders, but the balanced technical rules, which allow universal competitiveness of machinery, irrespective of engine configuration. Spec Pirelli tyres for all competitors have also helped make World Superbike increasingly accessible and popular, with manufacturers and teams alike.
With one win apiece after round one, 1996 World Champion Troy Corser and his Alstare Corona Extra Suzuki team-mate Yukio Kagayama, have been fastest out of their starting blocks. Nonetheless, they face a solid wall of competitors at this test, all determined to catch up before the season moves on to round two, at Phillip Island in Australia on April 3. The Valencia circuit, a stadium style 4.005km venue much used for testing in all classes of global Motorsport, has been the site of many an official World Superbike shakedown session and race in previous years. The teams will use their track time as a valuable opportunity to make preparations, not only for the Phillip Island race, but also for the third round, at Valencia itself, on 24 April.
The youngest ever World Champion is also the current number one plate holder, James Toseland (Xerox Ducati 999F05). After a tough first round in Qatar, Toseland sits equal fifth in the series, thanks to two sixth place race finishes. His team-mate Laconi had a much more successful time, and is third overall, behind Kagayama and Corser. Ducati's factory runners will relish the chance to make further set-up improvements on their heavily revamped factory 999F05 machines.
For riders like the Winston Ten Kate Honda duo of Chris Vermeulen and Karl Muggeridge the first round at Qatar was a fight against illness and occasional misfortune. Other Honda riders will also be thankful for more track time before the next race - and the ability to make a comparison with other riders' lap times - in their quests to fine tune their 2005 CBR1000RRs. Pierfrancesco Chili and Max Neukirchner (Klaffi Honda), plus Ben Bostrom (Renegade Honda Koji) are other top Honda runners in the high class 2005 rider line-up.
Numerically strong this year, Yamaha riders have good reasons to look forward to the Valencia tests. The leading Yamaha rider thus far is 2001 World Supersport Champion Andrew Pitt (Yamaha Motor Italia), equal fifth after his Qatar experiences. His team-mate Noriyuki Haga is in more need of testing than most riders at this stage, having not had the same amount of track time as Pitt. Two leading Yamaha riders with great experience of race-spec Yamaha R1s are Jose-Luis Cardoso (Yamaha DFX Extreme Sterilgarda) and Sebastien Gimbert (Yamaha Motor France). The ten-strong regular Yamaha line-up also includes GP winner Norick Abe (Yamaha Motor France) in its ranks.
PSG-1 Kawasaki rider Chris Walker, teamed up with Mauro Sanchini in 2005, enjoyed some strong performances in round one, if little good fortune overall, and will be looking to Valencia as an opportunity to enhance the consistency of his machine set-up. The Bertocchi Kawasaki riders, Giovanni Bussei and Ivan Clementi, have the comparative luxury of their team's 2004 season experiences of the ZX-10 Kawasaki.
Among the private Ducati entries this season, the Scuderia Caracchi pairing of Fonsi Nieto and Lorenzo Lanzi stand out as two potential race winners. At the Valencia tests Nieto especially will have a familiar track on which to enhance his relationship with a very different machine from the ones he has been used to.
With two new 2005 riders in the shape of Garry McCoy and Steve Martin, the Foggy Petronas squad, armed with the technically innovative three-cylinder Petronas FP-1, are keen to make inroads into the increasingly competitive grid. Valencia has been a scene of glory for the Petronas team before, making their track time particularly revealing for their immediate prospects.
Winston Ten Kate Honda riders Katsuaki Fujiwara and Sebastien Charpentier currently head a strong leading pack in World Supersport, with riders like Kevin Curtain and Broc Parkes (Yamaha Motor Germany) out to reclaim the distance shown between the leading duo and the rest at Losail. Fabien Foret and Michel Fabrizio (Team Italia Megabike Honda), plus WSS rookie Tatu Lauslehto (Klaffi Honda) continue the Honda sweep in this largely 600cc class. From Ducati, Gianluca Nannelli (SC Caracchi Ducati) and Jurgen van den Goorbergh (Ducati Selmat) return to the scene of their initial tests in the build up to the 2005 season.
Two days of testing at Valencia (12 - 13 March) will make way for round two of the series, at Phillip Island on 1-3 April. After Losail's Saturday race, the regular SBK schedule of first qualifying on Friday, Superpole on Saturday and races on Sunday will be in place for the remainder of the season.