World Superbike returns to the 'Temple of Speed' at Monza for the first Italian round of the 2010 season

The HANNspree FIM Superbike World Championship returns to the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza from May 7-9 for another classic appointment with the Italian track. Twenty years on from the first edition at the Monza parkland circuit on the outskirts of Milan, the challenge is still the same, but this time with seven different manufacturers competing with the best racing talent from Italy and abroad. On this high-speed track production-based Superbike machines lap at an average speed of close to 200 km/h, and this year expectations are high that the races will produce sparks from lights to flag.

For two-wheeled racing fans Monza will offer numerous talking points this weekend: table-toppers Suzuki with Britain's Leon Haslam, the all-Italian combination of Aprilia, Alitalia and Biaggi, the factory Ducati riders trying to shrug off their below-par season start, Honda back at the top once again following Johnny Rea's domination at Assen, reigning champions Yamaha with two talented British stars, BMW on the up and up and Kawasaki who are aiming to finally join the front-running party.

On the rider front the 27-year-old Brit Leon Haslam, the son of Ron 'Rocket' Haslam who graced the 500 GP scene for many years, is currently on the top of the pile. After four rounds Leon leads the way with two wins to his name, and is 20 points ahead of Max Biaggi. Max, for his part, appears to have all the right cards this year to become the first ever Italian to win the World Superbike title and a double win in Portugal is projecting him towards that success. All eyes will also be on another British Lion, 23-year-old Leon Camier who stepped onto the WSB podium for the first time at Assen, while another Suzuki, a GSXR1000 Yoshimura for Yukio Kagayama, also joins the grid in the first of three races slated in for this year.

Not everything is going according to plan in Ducati and the Italian manufacturer, which has won 18 of the 36 races held at Monza, is looking to one of its congenial tracks to set things right. Both the Xerox Ducati men, Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio have struggled to regain ground since the opening round in Australia and thousands of fans will be following closely their every move. As well as the factory squad, the Althea Ducati team has brought back Spaniard Carlos Checa to a level of competitiveness rarely seen in the last couple of years, and Checa will receive capable back-up from Shane Byrne, who is still looking for a breakthrough this year. Jakub Smrz is producing excellent form, especially in qualifying, on the Borciani-Guandalini Ducati 1098 machine, while Italian colours are also capably represented by Lorenzo Lanzi (DFX) and Luca Scassa (Supersonic).

Much attention surrounds relative newcomers BMW, who after a year of running in the new S1000RR, are now starting to appear in the top positions. BMW hope to continue this positive trend at Monza, a track where the four-cylinder German machine can lay down all of its power and maybe a podium finish is on the cards. The Tardozzi effect is beginning to be felt throughout the team and two-times champion Troy Corser, together with Ruben Xaus, is rapidly making progress.

Dutch team Hannspree Ten Kate have taken Japanese manufacturer Honda back to the top after a disappointing start to the year with a dominant double win for Rea at Assen. After the latest modifications the CBR is now a perfectly competitive bike again, and Rea is aiming for further success, while things are a bit more difficult for young German Max Neukirchner who hasn't yet got entirely to grips with his new Honda mount. Monza will also mark the return of Vittorio Iannuzzo on the private Squadra Corse Italia Honda CBR.

Yamaha hopes of repeating last year's fantastic American exploit, when Spies took one win at Monza and the title, lie with two British riders, James Toseland and Cal Crutchlow. For Toseland the return to Superbike, after a couple of unsuccessful seasons in MotoGP, has not been easy but his well-known perseverance has rewarded him with three podiums in the last four races, a result that has propelled him into fifth overall. Crutchlow's impact is the result of a spectacular riding style and two Superpoles have earned the Coventry man a front-row place in the eyes of Superbike fans everywhere in his debut season.

For Kawasaki the grass continues to be 'greener' on the other side of the fence. Chris Vermeulen's crash at Phillip Island together with him missing the next two rounds at Portimao and Valencia as he recovered from his knee injury, has scaled down the revitalized team's ambitions. Tom Sykes is doing everything possible to get good results but for the moment there is some way to go.

SUPERSPORT: The Supersport World Championship has always offered close competition, but this year Monza is guaranteed to produce sparks, with slipstreaming the name of the game. In the first three rounds there were three different winners, each of the 'big three' scoring well, with first Eugene Laverty (Parkalgar Honda), then Kenan Sofuoglu (Hannspree Ten Kate Honda), then Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Motocard.com) scoring full points. At the most recent race Laverty scored win number two, but he had to, as two less than happy weekends in Portugal and then Spain saw him drop way off the leading pace. At Assen he recovered ground, and now only 19 points, cover the top three in the championship.

SUPERSTOCK 1000: You cannot get better than perfect, and for BMW Motorrad Italia and Ayrton Badovini perfect is what 2010 has been so far. Three races, three wins, the full 75 possible points on offer and the nearest challenger 30 points behind. The basis of the team is the same one that took Ducati to the championship for the past three years, under the guiding hand of Serafino Foti. Behind Badovini are three riders who have shared the podium with him so far, Davide Giugliano (06 Team Suzuki), Maxime Berger (Ten Kate Race Junior) and Sylvain Barrier (BMW Garnier). Loris Baz (MRS Racing Yamaha) was the champion in the 600 Superstock class in 2008, and has also now scored a top three in 1000 Superstock, in Portugal.

SUPERSTOCK 600: French riders continue to dominate the European Superstock 600 championship which comes to Monza for its fourth round. Two youngsters are at the top, 17 year-old Jeremy Guarnoni (Yamaha MRS Racing), who won in Portugal, followed by 16 year-old Florian Marino (Ten Kate Race Junior Honda), winner at Valencia and Assen. They are separated by 11 points. The third interloper could be Norway's Frederik Karlsen (MTM Racing Yamaha), who is emerging as a contender after a fifth place at Assen and having been given back the points he lost at Valencia. Behind can be found the Martini Corse Yamaha pairing of Dino Lombardi and Federico D'Annunzio.

THE CIRCUIT: Following the multiple incident at the start of race 1 last year , which involved numerous riders, the first chicane has been slightly modified to give an easier entry angle . As a result the track now measures 5.777 km, 16 metres less than last year.

COLLATERAL ACTIVITIES: But Monza is not only about the racing. The parallel activities for one of the most important races of the year also include events that will involve spectators both inside and outside the Paddock. Dedicated Aprilia, BMW, Ducati and Kawasaki grandstands will offer a unique spectacle, while fans can also watch exhibitions by German stuntman Chris Pfeiffer on Sunday during the pit-walk and on two other occasions in the Casa SBK Village, which will also be organizing competitions and prizes throughout the weekend.

EXTRAORDINARY EVENT FOR AN EXTRAORDINARY RACE: The fever-pitch expectation for the WSB Round at the legendary Monza circuit and the rise in ticket pre-sales are elements that will surely guarantee the success of the event. Starting the weekend off in style, an SBK Party has been organized for Thursday 6th May at 8pm in the prestigious OLD FASHION club in Via Alemagna, Milan. The event sees the participation of the top riders in the championship, sponsors, journalists, TV and media and sport and show business personalities. The evening will also be opened up to all Superbike fans, who can download the invitation from FACEBOOK at www.facebook.com/sbkofficial to have free access from 11pm onwards by presenting the invitation.

-source: wsbk