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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 09:53 GMT
Ones to watch
Ducati's Neil Hodgson is one of the favourites for the title
Hodgson is one of the pre-season favourites for the title
World Superbikes has seen some familiar faces leave the championship since the end of last season.

Reigning world champion Colin Edwards, former world champion Troy Bayliss and Japanese rider Noriyuki Haga have all left the championship for Moto GP.

The Honda, Kawasaki and Aprilia teams have also pulled out of the championship, leaving the field looking very threadbare.

But there are still 26 riders desperate to win the coveted championship and BBC Sport picks out the best:


Ducati
Former British Superbike champion Neil Hodgson moved to the factory team after joining World Superbikes in 2001 with the HM Plant Ducati team.

Because of the departures from World Superbikes, Hodgson started the year as one of the favourites for the title and has lived up to his billing by dominating the year.

The other member of the stable is Ruben Xaus, a talented but erratic rider who could be a serious threat to Hodgson.


HM Plant Ducati
Hodgson's move to the Ducati team created a vacancy that was filled by Chris Walker.

Walker rode for Kawasaki last year but had a frustrating season on the underpowered 750cc bike.

The veteran rider was Hodgson's great rival in British Superbikes and finished runner up to him in 2000, so there should be some good battles this year.

Walker's start to last season was marred when he contracted Bell's Palsy and this year he managed to break his leg in the off season.

The team are running the 998s that Bayliss used to finish runner-up last year - as the factory-supported privateers they are the only team to get last year's factory bike.

Walker's team-mate is James Toseland, who is only 22 and won his first podium finish last year.

This is a make-or-break season for Toseland as he seeks to prove he can live up to his potential.

Toseland is a fantastic piano player and would probably have followed a career in music if he had not decided to be a racer.


Suzuki
Suzuki will have the only factory 1000cc four-cylinder bike running this year, ridden by Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla.

But the times from testing - Lavilla finished 10th overall - suggest the Alstare Suzuki will not be very competitive this year.


Foggy Petronas Racing
Carl Fogarty's new team will appear on the grid for the first time. The team's launch was delayed last year after they failed to meet the "homologation deadline".

The deadline is designed to ensure that each bike is not a one-off.

Former champion Troy Corser will ride for Carl Fogarty's team
Former champion Troy Corser will ride for Carl Fogarty's team

Now Fogarty's team have produced 75 road-going bikes. The bike is a three-cylinder 900cc - the only one on the grid.

Benelli had a similar bike last year but have failed to find the money to run it again this year.

Former world champion Troy Corser makes his return to Superbikes with his old rival's team.

Corser sat out last season's championship while waiting for the new bike, so the Australian will be keen to prove he can still compete.

But the outspoken rider might find it tough to get a podium finish this year after finishing eighth overall in testing.

Corser's team-mate is James Haydon, a former British superbike rider who will be competing in his first full season in World Superbikes.


Other contenders

  • Pierfrancesco Chili, otherwise known as Frankie, will be on a privateer Ducati this year.

    The oldest man in the championship at 39, he is also one of the biggest characters.

    The popular Italian will certainly not be short of support.

  • Regis Laconi is back in the competition after yo-yoing between World Superbikes and Moto GP.

    Laconi is on a privateer Ducati, but a very successful recent test in Valencia suggests he is one to watch.

    He failed to live up to his potential last time in Superbike until a fantastic final weekend at Imola in 2001 where he won the second race.




  • WATCH AND LISTEN
    Team owner Carl Fogarty
    "I want to be winning races"



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