The much-anticipated 2017 British Superbike season commences this weekend at Donington Park in Leicestershire - while the World Superbike contenders contest round three of their series.
In Britain's premier two-wheel racing series, once again the field comprises a mix of world-class riders mixing it with up-and-coming talent.
For 2017 the grid will be graced by an ex-Superbike World Champion, Sylvan Guintoli, who won the title in 2014. he returns to British Superbikes for the first time since 2009, when he finished eighth in the championship with Suzuki.
The 2015 BSB champion Josh Brookes returns after a frustrating season in World Superbikes with BMW. Brookes will be riding a Yamaha R1, a bike on which he took 13 race wins as he dominated the 2015 championship.
Speaking with the Telegraph earlier this week, Brookes said he’s not disappointed to be coming back to BSB: “It’s one of the top championships in the world. BSB is a class series that stands on it’s own, it doesn’t need me to justify it.” he is clearly not here to make up the numbers... What he is disappointed about is that he hasn’t been given the chance to have a real go on the world stage.
Five-times (and reigning) BSB champion Shane Byrne finished a distant second behind Brookes in 2015 and is once again one of the pre-season favourites. Already the most successful rider ever in BSB, Byrne will be as motivated as ever for success. Byrne holds the record for the most race victories in the series and will be joined on the grid by a further nine race winners. This statistic alone says that the series will be as competitive as ever and that no one rider will be able to rest on their laurels.
Back in BSB for a second season is fans' favourite Leon Haslam. He finished runner-up last year and will be hungry as ever to shake off the tag of perennial bridesmaid. Both he and Byrne come into the series on familiar machinery, while their rivals at Honda and Suzuki are aboard completely new bikes, which could prove a hindrance in the early rounds. Honda in particular may struggle initially, having not received their bikes until late into the close season.
Luke Mossey surprised many last year when he qualified for the showdown. This year he partners Haslam in the JG Speedfit team and pre-season testing suggests he could be one to watch. Other youngsters looking to make a name for themselves in the top class are Glenn Irwin, Bradley Ray and Taylor MacKenzie.
It seems we say it every year but, looking at the line-up, BSB 2017 is a mouthwatering prospect.
2017 British Superbike Championship calendar
Regular season: Donington Park (March 30-April 2); Brands Hatch Indy circuit (April 14-17); Oulton Park (April 29-May 1); Knockhill (June 16-18); Snetterton (June 30-July 2); Brands Hatch GP circuit (July 21-23); Thruxton (August 4-6); Cadwell Park (August 18-20); Silverstone GP circuit - triple header (September 8-10).
Shoot-out: Oulton Park (September 15-17); Assen (September 29-October 1); Brands Hatch GP circuit - triple header (October 13-15).
The series will be shown live on British Eurosport
World Superbike Championship
On the world stage, round three of the World Superbike series marks a return to mainland Europe, at MotorLand Aragon in Spain. The event also includes the inaugural round of the new-for-2017 World SSP300 series.
So far the 2017 season is following the previous two, with Jonathan Rea once again in dominant form. The Kawasaki rider has won all four races to date as well as taking pole position at the previous two rounds. He has also claimed the fastest lap in the first race at both rounds, with Italian Marco Melandri (Ducati) taking the honours in both of the second races.
Briton Chaz Davies, Melandri's team-mate, has so far claimed three second place finishes, along with sixth last time out in Thailand. Although this is enough for second in the title race at this early stage, he is already 30 points behind Rea - although that's considerably closer that at the same stage last year, when he was 45 points adrift.
Davies will be hoping for a repeat of last year's Aragon round, where he took both race wins. A similar achievement this weekend would no doubt have Rea looking over his shoulder, especially considering Davies’s dominant end to the 2106 season.
Once again British riders are dominating World Superbikes, occupying the top four places, with Rea’s team-mate Tom Sykes in third and Sam Lowes (Yamaha) third.
So far, Melandri looks like the most likely rider to take the battle to the Brits, though whether he can challenge remains to be seen.
2017 World Superbike standings
1. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) 100 points
2. Chaz Davies (Ducati) 70
3. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 62
4. Alex Lowes (Yamaha) 49
5. Marco Melandri (Ducati) 45
6. Xavi Fores (Ducati) 34