World Superbike and Supersport action kicks off with round one at the new Losail circuit in Qotar Doha in the Middle East on February 26 with next step on the world circus, Australia and Phillip Island on April 3.
Leading the local charge in terms of experience and achievement is 1996 World Champion, Troy Corser. The 33-year-old native of Wollongong - set to marry his long time partner Sam this Sunday (January 23) - is now a leading light in the Alstare Corona Suzuki Extra team, on the all-new GSX-R1000. He is teamed up for the 2005 season with Japanese extrovert Yukio Kagayama, a multiple British Championship race winner for Suzuki in 2003 and 2004.
In his first outing for his new team, Corser was fastest at Valencia's pre-season test in December, and was very encouraged by his bike's performance at the island in testing this past week.
Having won 23 world superbike races outright, and taking an astonishing 30 pole positions from his 203 race starts, Corser is one of two world superbike champions on display at Phillip Island.
The other is the current champion, James Toseland, the youngest ever rider (at 23 years of age) to win the world superbike series, after a rollercoaster 2004 season on his factory Ducati. The tough Yorkshireman is once more teamed up with 2004 vice-champion, and Phillip Island race one winner in 2004, Regis Laconi. Italian star in the making, Lorenzo Lanzi, joins the superbike class on a Scuderia Caracchi Ducati 999 while 250cc GP race winner Fonsi Nieto will start in the SC Ducati squad, running his own sponsorship package from Spain.
Having dominated in numerical and championship winning terms for most of world superbike's 17 year history, Ducati riders find themselves very much in the minority at the start of season 18, largely thanks to a change of technical regulations prior to the 2004 season, and the adoption of control Pirelli tyres.
A whole new generation of Japanese 1000cc four-cylinder machines, based closely on the very models you can see on any showroom floor in the world, have come on stream for this year's championship and all of the 'big four' Japanese manufacturers have potent riding line-ups under contact to their favoured teams for 2005.
Yamaha Italia, running the awesome latest generation YZF-R1 play host to the enigmatic brilliance of prodigal son Noriyuki Haga, back in the fold after almost winning the championship in 2004 on a private Renegade Ducati. In possession of a riding style ideally suited to multi-cylinder engines, Haga has to be considered one of the strongest tips overall. Of more importance for the local Australian crowd, Supersport hero and recent MotoGP rider Andrew Pitt (Gold Coast) has his first clear opportunity to shine in world superbike, attempting to add to his 2001 world title for Kawasaki in the global 600cc class.
Other top Yamaha competitors include the Yamaha Motor France entry of multiple MotoGP race-winner Norick Abe and French ace Sebastien Gimbert. The latter was a revelation at the final round in 2004, finishing fourth on two occasions at Magny Cours.
Honda, the world's largest manufacturer, fields an all-Aussie force in the proven Ten Kate Superbike squad, once more using the fierce CBR1000RR Fireblade. Supersport world champions Sunshine Coast's Chris Vermeulen (2003) and Gold Coast's Karl Muggeridge (2004) head up the Dutch-based entry, with Vermeulen already a four-time race winner after his debut world superbike season in 2004. For Muggeridge 2005 is his rookie season in world superbike, after a record-breaking career in Supersport that saw him dominate the 2004 season and take the crown.
The most experienced superbike rider in history, 40 year old Pierfrancesco Chili heads up a two man Klaffi Honda team, while American bike ace Ben Bostrom will ride in a one man Renegade Honda team.
Kawasaki's entry is headed by four-time British Championship runner-up Chris Walker, riding for Pierfrancesco Chili's erstwhile collaborators, the PSG-1 team. His 1000cc ZX-10 is expected to be every bit as potent as the main competition, in a year when there will be an unprecedented number of fast men and machines on display.
In the hands of Walker and Corser the championship's most unique engineering entity, the Anglo-Malaysian Petronas FP-1 three-cylinder, secured podium finishes in 2004. It once more adds a distinctive sight and sound to the varied world superbike grid. Operated under the auspices of the most successful world superbike racer in history, four-time champion Carl Fogarty, the 900cc Petronas holds the 2005 hopes of Aussie rider Garry McCoy - who won race two at the Island in 2004 - and multiple Superpole winner Melbourne's Steve Martin, both of whom were enticed from private Ducati teams over the winter.
The World Supersport Championship, running in parallel with all 12 world superbike rounds, features a strong field once more. The Yamaha Motor Germany squad, champions in 2000, have attracted the talents of Australians Kevin Curtain and Broc Parkes, in what is effectively Yamaha's lone supported squad. This experienced pairing are ranged against a strong array of works supported and private teams, from Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki and Suzuki.
In addition to the Superbike World and Supersport World championships, the Phillip Island event features the opening round of the Australian Superbike Championship; the Australian Supersport Championship and the Australian Superstock Series.