WSBK

Mark Aitchison to fight a lone Aussie hand in 2012 WSKB as teams confirmed

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The seasoned world Superbike fighters are now officially on notice from a new wave of top guns ‰ÛÒ that's the upshot following the announcement of riders and teams for the 2012 championship, beginning at Phillip Island on February 24-26.

Of the 24 riders across nine nationalities contesting the 2012 series, highly regarded new arrivals include 2009 250 GP world champion Hiroshi Aoyama and American John Hopkins, who could help turn the 14-round championship into an almighty battle on a number of fronts.

Aoyama slots into the factory Honda team alongside Jonathan Rea, while Hopkins, who came agonisingly close to claiming the 2011 British Superbike title, will pair with Leon Camier at the new British-based Crescent Racing Suzuki team.

Meanwhile, Mark Aitchison, from Tumbi Umbi (NSW), will continue in world Superbike on a privateer BMW, and will be the only Australian in action following the retirement of Troy Corser and the departure of Chris Vermeulen.

As well as Honda and Suzuki, the other blue-chip factory combinations in 2012 will be Eugene Laverty and 2010 WSBK champion Max Biaggi at Aprilia Alitalia; Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam at BMW Motorrad; and Joan Lascorz and Tom Sykes at Kawasaki.

Melandri is the reigning world No. 2, and was the only rider to keep Spanish firebrand Carlos Checa in his sights during the 2011 season.

Checa, who decimated the field at the Phillip Island round in 2011, returns with Althea Ducati to defend his title, with the team expanding its roster by adding promising Italian Davide Giugliano ‰ÛÒ the 2011 FIM Superstock 1000 champion and one of eight newcomers to the WSBK paddock.

Chaz Davies (Aprilia ParkinGO) and David Salom (Pedercini Kawasaki), who finished 1-2 in the 2011 world Supersport title, are also new recruits.

Salom's teammate at Pedercini will be Leandro Mercado, the first Argentinean to race in the WSBK title.

Other strong privateer line-ups include Ayrton Badovini and Michel Fabrizio at BMW Motorrad Italia, and Jakub Smrz, Sylvain Guintoli and Maxime Berger at Effenbert-Liberty Ducati.

A third of the riders on the grid at Phillip Island will already be WSBK race winners, but that number could swell by the end of the year as the championship works its way through Europe, the UK, America and, for the first time, Russia.

One rider who won't be on the grid at Phillip Island is Japan's Noriyuki Haga, whose magnificent 12-year, 43 race-winning WSBK career could now be over after he failed to strike a deal to continue racing in 2012. In 2009, Haga just fell short of winning the championship after an epic battle against American Ben Spies.

WORLD SUPERSPORT

The Supersport World Championship is now in restoration mode, with a massive 32 permanent riders pencilled in for 2012, including two Australians --- Broc Parkes and Jed Metcher. There's also a raft of rookies competing, from countries such as Poland, Russia, Hungary, Austria and South Africa.

Parkes, 30, returns to Ten Kate Honda for the first time since 2004 when he finished second in the championship behind countryman Karl Muggeridge, while 2011 European Superstock 600 champion Metcher is set to back himself on a Russian-backed RivaMoto Yamaha.

The departure of WSBK-bound Davies and Salom has opened some more opportunities at the sharp end of the pack, although that gain could be partially offset by the return of hard-charging 2010 world champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Lorenzini), who's returned after a year racing in Moto2.

Prior to the opening round of the WSBK championship, the final official pre-season test will also be held at the Bass Straight circuit from February 20-21, which normally provides a strong form guide for the following weekend's action.

Fancy a weekend at the world superbikes. It's super easy to book. Go to www.worldsbk.com.au or ring the SBK toll free Hotline on 1 300 728 007.

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