World Superbike heads to the Middle East for the first time in its history as the Losail International Circuit in Qatar plays host to the opening round of the 2005 championship. Last October James Toseland became the youngest-ever WSBK champion when he beat off the attacks from team-mate Régis Laconi to take the 2004 title and the Anglo-French duo will be lining up on the grid again as team-mates on the red 999 machines from Borgo Panigale, this time in the colours of new title sponsor, Xerox.
The world's leading office technology supplier has linked its name to the Ducati Corse factory squad for the next two years and in the first year of the partnership the Ducati Xerox Team has every intention of continuing the Italian manufacturer's winning streak, which has seen it take 11 Riders' and 13 Manufacturers' titles since the start of the World Superbike Championship in 1988.
Last weekend Toseland and Laconi made final preparations for the championship in a two-day test session at Losail, which left the British rider with tenth quickest time and several bruises after a nasty highside on Sunday. But Toseland was quick to play down any fears that he would not be competitive this weekend:
"I'm still feeling a bit black and blue but apart from that, I'm fine" declared Toseland. "I was quite relieved because it was probably the biggest crash I've had in my career. Before the crash, I was quite happy with my performance even though I didn't get the chance to try a qualifying tyre on Sunday.
"As far as the whole package and the team is concerned, I believe that the Ducati is still the bike to beat, we have put a lot of effort into retaining this title and for my part I'm not going to be giving up that number 1 plate without a fight", he concluded.
Laconi, fourth fastest last weekend, was satisfied with his progress during the pre-race testing. "We did a lot of laps and worked very hard last weekend and found everything we were looking for, reliability, speed and tyre endurance so I'm happy with the progress" declared Régis.
"The track will be different for sure during the race, but now it's important to get good results this weekend and start the championship in the best possible way. The track is new for everyone and will be slippery, but it will be interesting to see how many riders stay fast lap after lap until the end of the race. I am pretty happy with my performance, so we will see what happens", concluded Laconi.