With the first two long-haul rounds of the 2006 Corona Extra World Superbike Championship completed, the entire WSBK circus returns to Europe for the start of the second phase of the 13-round campaign.
In preparation for the first European round, at Valencia on April 23, an official test for the Superbike, Supersport and Superstock classes will take place at the same venue from March 27-29.
The importance of the test can be gauged by the fact that the roll call of participating riders and teams is a virtual mirror image of the permanent entry list, with 28 Superbike competitors on their way to the Iberian Peninsula.
Heading the line-up are the current championship top three of Ducati Xerox star Troy Bayliss, Winston Ten Kate's James Toseland - who is just 1-point behind the Australian - and Alstare Suzuki's reigning champion Troy Corser, presently third in the standings.
All have already been World Superbike champions at least once - and have, between them, won all four races held so far this season - but one rider looking increasingly to join them on the top step of the podium is former MotoGP star Alex Barros, who finished second and third in his second ever WSBK event, last time out in Phillip Island.
Due to his late deal Barros missed out on the previous unofficial round of Valencia tests, shortly before the start of the season, and so will be making his first visit to the popular Spanish venue on his Klaffi Honda CBR1000RR. Barros, who has been riding a near stock machine so far, is expecting engine upgrades in time for the Valencia race and could be testing such new parts next week.
In the Yamaha camp, Australian Andrew Pitt and his Japanese team-mate Noriyuki Haga have each scored podium finishes in the 2006 series already, and each will now look to the Valencia tests to polish off their preparations and mount an attack on the top step of the podium.
The Italian based Yamaha team faces pressure from two Italian riders in the current championship table, with rookie inductee Roberto Rolfo of Ducati SC Caracchi and former WSS star Michel Fabrizio (DFX Honda) just behind - both are also heading to Valencia for the tests.
The current championship top ten also features the still-recuperating Ruben Xaus and the top Kawasaki rider on show thus far, Fonsi Nieto.
That means that the likes that even proven 2005 race winners Lorenzo Lanzi and Yukio Kagayama are currently on double digits in terms of their championship ranking. The Valencia test will this be an opportunity to iron out the last of the early season wrinkles for factory riders like Lanzi and Kagayama, while a return to Europe is also expected to settle many of the early-season wobbles experienced by riders such as Karl Muggeridge (Winston Ten Kate Honda), Max Neukirchner (Ducati Pedercini) and Regis Laconi (PSG-1 Kawasaki Corse).
Also in attendance at Valencia will be PSG-1 Kawasaki's Chris Walker, plus the Petronas pairing of Steve Martin and SBK rookie Craig Jones, with the latter two aiming to perfect the set-up of the unique three-cylinder machine after two rounds at comparatively fast circuits.
In the World Supersport championship, an impressive 31 riders will be in attendance at the test, a total that includes Winston Ten Kate Honda's reigning champion and current championship leader, Sebastien Charpentier, plus his closest challenger Kevin Curtain (Yamaha Motor Germany).
First and second respectively in each race so far, Charpentier and Curtain can expect another clutch of riders to make the jump to potential winning pace after testing at Valencia. The great pace and consistency shown by Robbin Harms and Johan Stigefelt - each operating from under the Stiggy Motorsports Honda umbrella - puts them third and fourth respectively.
Podium finishes have already come for Winston Ten Kate Honda's young Turk Kenan Sofuoglu Curtain's Yamaha Motor Germany team-mate Broc Parkes - but each has also scored a DNF. Josh Brookes has made the most of the available power and handling of his Ducati SC Caracchi 749, and on his testing return to Valencia, should be able to gauge accurately what lies ahead in terms of development.
After the Valencia test, another official practice session takes place before the third round of the championship at the circuit, with Misano the next venue on the testing trail, from April 12-13.
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