The following is from infront sports… The 22nd edition of the Superbike World Championship kicks off in just over one month’s time at Phillip Island in Australia, but the bikes will be air-freighted across the globe at the start of February so as to be ready for several teams to test there one week before the opening round. This weekend’s test at the Portuguese circuit of Portimao, from Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th January, therefore represents the last remaining opportunity for major testing and development work, but above all it will be the first direct clash between all the WSBK contenders before the start of the new season. The test in Portugal will also see the official launch of the championship, which sees a record participation of 32 riders, with a press conference in the circuit. MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE – Portimao will see the participation of Paul Bird Motorsport’s Kawasaki Superbike Racing Team, absent from the South African test in December, therefore all seven manufacturer teams, a record in bike racing, will be present. Aprilia Racing (Max Biaggi and Shinya Nakano), BMW Motorrad Alpha Racing (Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus), Ducati Xerox (Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio), Hannspree Ten Kate Honda (Carlos Checa, Jonathan Rea and Ryuichi Kiyonari), Kawasaki Superbike Racing Team (Makoto Tamada and Broc Parkes), Suzuki Alstare (Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama) and Yamaha World Superbike (Ben Spies and Tom Sykes) are the 15 riders on the factory machines. NEW ENTRIES – The Kyalami test in December demonstrated that the battle will be exceptionally close this year, as the top riders were all separated by just over one second. Expectations are high for these tests at Portimao, with the two new entries Aprilia and BMW expected to be much closer to the leading pace. FULL GRID – But it’s not just the factory teams that make up the starting-grid. The 2009 edition of the WSBK championship also includes several other top class satellite and private teams who will be aiming to carve out a role for themselves amongst the leaders. All eyes will be on Ducati Sterilgarda with Shane Byrne, the 2008 BSB champion, Stiggy Motorsport Honda with Leon Haslam and Roberto Rolfo and also Ducati Guandalini, with Jakub Smrz and 2008 Superstock 1000 FIM Cup winner Brendan Roberts. MADE IN ITALY – Italy has never been able to win a Superbike title but this year the prospects are promising, with two top riders, Max Biaggi and Michel Fabrizio, on the grid. Biaggi has opted to debut the new Aprilia RSV4 and if development goes well, he can also be considered amongst the favourites. Fabrizio, in his second season with the factory Ducati team, has already slipped into the role of front-runner and is aiming for the top. Six Italian riders will be on the grid, all with different ambitions: Roberto Rolfo (Honda), Alessandro Polita (Ducati), Italian Superbike champion Luca Scassa (Kawasaki), Vittorio Iannuzzo (Honda) and the two Kawasaki PSG-1 youngsters, Ayrton Badovini and Matteo Baiocco, who however will not be present at Portimao. NEW FOR 2009 – The Portimao test will also be a first chance to try out the two new regulation changes this year, in particular the Superpole ‘knock-out’ format. After the Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning sessions, the top 20 will go on to try out the new format in the final afternoon, an innovation that is guaranteed to add even more excitement to this year’s championship. SUPERSPORT – Supersport will also have three days of testing in Portugal, with all teams present except for the second Suzuki Hoegee rider. It will be interesting to see the battle between the Ten Kate Honda duo of Andrew Piitt and Kenan Sofuoglu, Supersport champions respectively in 2008 and 2007, but they will be up against a number of tough adversaries including Cal Crutchlow, Yamaha World Supersport’s new signing, team-mate Fabien Foret, Anthony West with the Stiggy Motorsport Honda, and youngsters Joan Lascorz (Kawasaki Provec) and Mark Aitchison (Honda Althea). Six Italians are present in this year’s championship: Gianluca Vizziello (Honda), Gianluca Nannelli (Triumph), Massimo Roccoli (Honda), Michele Pirro (Yamaha), Fabrizio Lai (Honda) and Danilo Dell’Omo (Honda).