Following his 2010 title victory, all eyes will clearly be on the world champion Max Biaggi (Aprilia Alitalia), who went some way towards resolving the problems that his RSV4 Factory had encountered during last year’s opening round, where the Italian could only finish fifth and eighth. Following December testing Biaggi should now be quick straight out of the box. Britain’s Leon Camier lines up for his second full year with the team and will be looking to produce the results.
Leon Haslam, Biaggi’s main rival last year, has now changed team and manufacturer and during the recent tests he was able to put his new BMW S 1000RR through its paces. The German team has been busy throughout the winter and next week it will be possible to gauge exactly how competitive the bike has become. Last year Haslam won one of the Australian races and with his team-mate, seven-times Phillip Island winner Troy Corser, alongside him, the German team will be looking to bring home the results in their third season of WSBK.
The other 2010 race was won by Carlos Checa (Ducati Althea Racing), who now spearheads Ducati’s attack in a championship where it is no longer officially present. But the Spaniard will enjoy all the technical and engineering support possible from Borgo Panigale. Checa was right on the pace in Portimao and Aragon
Testing, while Jakub Smrz on the factory-assisted Effenbert-Liberty Racing Ducati was quickest in Portugal. The Czech Republic rider will be flanked by Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli.
The Big 4 Japanese manufacturers will again be at the forefront, with their various levels of factory involvement. At the moment the leading candidate is Jonathan Rea, who together with Ruben Xaus, brings the legendary Castrol Honda red, white and green colours back to life on the Ten Kate-run CBR 1000RR. All change this year for Yamaha, who after a world title for Ben Spies in 2009 and a transitional year in 2010, line up for the new season with Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty. The Italian is anxious to return to the victory podium in a totally new category for him, while his Irish team-mate has already shown he is one of the best young stars in the category.
A real surprise could come from Kawasaki, another manufacturer to have been very active over the winter, during which it carried out a series of tests on several different circuits. Tom Sykes, Joan Lascorz and Chris Vermeulen (still recovering from last year’s injuries) have all looked convincing and the team has carried out a lot of development work on the new ZX-10R, turning it into a competitive machine.
For its part Suzuki Alstare are campaigning with only one GSX-R1000 machine for one rider, Michel Fabrizio who this year has switched from the factory Ducati squad to Francis Batta’s Belgian outfit. The Italian has trained hard over the winter and is pushing the undoubtedly competitive Japanese four-cylinder machine to its limits.
A further boost for BMW’s hopes for glory could come from the satellite BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team which, after winning the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup with Badovini, will line up on the grid for its Superbike debut with the Italian and the two-times world champion James Toseland.
Mark Aitchison also makes his debut in the category with the Kawasaki Pedercini Team, while the grid at Phillip Island will be filled out by wild-cards, both Australians and both domestic champions, Bryan Staring (Kawasaki Pedercini) and Joshua Waters (Suzuki Yoshimura).
Phillip Island testing will also see the appearance by the Supersport contenders, whose only overseas round this year is in Australia. Judging by the results of winter testing, they are on course to offer one of the most interesting and competitive championships in recent years. The main focus of interest in the category for 600 cc Supersport machines comes with the return of Yamaha, following an agreement between the European wing of the company and the ParkinGO team to race the 2009 title-winning R6 machines, suitably updated.
In the hands of Luca Scassa and Chaz Davies, the Yamahas will have some tough competition from a plethora of Honda CBR600RRs, which have won the lion’s share of the titles over the years. Men to watch on the Hondas will include the Hannspree Ten Kate entrants, former champion Fabien Foret and youngster Florian Marino, both from France, as well as Sam Lowes (Parkalgar), Gino Rea (Step Racing) and James Ellison (Bogdanka PTR).
Kawasaki also have their sights on victory through the Provec Motocard.com team, which will enter Aussie Broc Parkes and young Spaniard David Salom. In winter testing the ZX-6R were right on the pace of the frontrunners. Last in the list of manufacturers present in Supersport is Triumph with its Daytona 675, two examples of which will be raced by South African Ronan Quarmby and Italian Danilo Dell’Omo of the Suriano Racing Team from Italy.