The absence of three time world champion Troy Bayliss will be an obvious sign of change, but the field will also be peppered with an influx of quality new names, mostly British, as well as personnel changes and the addition of two marques which is certain to make the racing more even and competitive than ever.
Four Australians will contest the 2009 WSBK title - dual world champion Troy Corser and Broc Parkes in factory teams, Gold Coast's Karl Muggeridge on a satellite Suzuki, and Adelaide's Brendan Roberts aboard a privateer Ducati. Corser's entry is the most captivating, as he'll be piloting BMW's fledgling S1000 RR four-cylinder machine alongside mercurial Spaniard Ruben Xaus.
Corser, from Wollongong, has already impressed in first-up testing at Valencia on the S1000 RR, which is brimming with technology such as variable valve timing. "I am a bit surprised really because I didn't think I would feel as comfortable on the bike as I did," said Corser, who was second behind the now retired Bayliss in last year's championship. "The base is very good and although there is a lot of work to be done, I feel very positive about our prospects. "Even though I have had just two days on the bike, I feel it is my bike and I wasn't expecting that so soon. The team have now got a lot of info and telemetry data to work with for the next test, but I'm happy with the progress we have made."
The addition of BMW and the Max Biaggi-led Aprilia to the WSBK grid means that seven manufacturers will line up in 2009, with KTM likely to join the action next as the production-based championship continues to gain in popularity. Parkes, one of a long list of champions to come out of the Hunter Valley region of NSW (Chad Reed is another) will return to WSBK for the first time since 2002, but this time he will be on a factory Kawasaki with former MotoGP winner Makota Tamada. The British-based Paul Bird Motorsport will run the official Kawasaki team in 2009, taking over the reins from PSG-1, after a disastrous 2008 for the Japanese manufacturer and its updated ZX-10R. Parkes has raced in world Supersport the last few years, and was second twice - in 2004 and 2007. He previously competed in 42 WSBK races on a privateer Ducati, with a best finish of fifth at Phillip Island in 2001. Kawasaki's sole world Superbike title came in 1993 with American Scott Russell. In 2009, another American may join Russell, Fred Merkel, Doug Polen, John Kocinski and Colin Edwards as WSBK champion: Texan Ben Spies.
The dual AMA Superbike winner is one of two new faces in the factory Yamaha squad after the departures of Corser and Japan's Noriyuki Haga.
The other Yamaha incumbent will be highly rated British rider Tom Sykes, who impressed in a couple of wildcard outings this year, but it's 24-year old Spies who's got all the tools of the trade to make an instant impact, especially with an all new YZF-R1, featuring a MotoGP like 'big-bang' engine, to play with. Spies was straight on the pace at testing in Portugal, and was only bested by 2008 British Superbike champion Shane Byrne on the privateer Ducati vacated by Biaggi. Other British hotshots in 2009 will include Jonathan Rea, who pushed Aussie Andrew Pitt all the way in this year's Supersport title, Leon Haslam and Tommy Hill. The trio will be on Hondas. Three of the top four in the 2008 British Superbike Championship will make their way to WSBK in 2009, with the other rider, Cal Crutchlow, to race in world Supersport for Yamaha. Rea's teammates will be Japan's Ryuichi Kiyonari and Carlos Checa, who both won races this year. At Aprilia, Biaggi will reunite with the company which guided him to three world 250 GP titles in a row from 1994-1996. He'll ride the all-new RSV4 V-four as Aprilia returns to WSBK after a six-year self-imposed exile. Aprilia is owned by massive scooter company, Piaggio.
Biaggi's teammate will be crack Japanese rider Shinya Nakano, who is a 10-year grand prix veteran - two in 250cc and eight in 500cc/MotoGP. His best championship result was second in 250 GP in 2000.Like Yamaha, Suzuki has also extensively updated its GSX-R1000 for 2009, which will please German Max Neukirchner, who was one of this year's revelations. Muggeridge, from the Gold Coast but based in Switzerland, will ride for the Rome-based Celani team, which will receive support from the factory Suzuki equip for its championship assault. Roberts will ride alongside Czech Jakub Smrz in the Italian Guandalini Racing Team. Roberts became this year's Superstock champion in the most remarkable circumstances at the final round in Portugal. Fourth in the standings after the penultimate round, Roberts (Ducati) won the finale from countryman Chris Seaton (Suzuki), which was enough to see him catapult three spots up the ladder as his main title rivals failed to deliver the goods on a wet track. Meanwhile, Bayliss's farewell has opened the door for the factory Ducati team to sign arguably the most exciting rider in WSBK -- Haga. This will probably be Haga's final roll of the dice as far as championship success goes, and the notorious slow starter will be desperate to kick off his campaign in fine style at Phillip Island. In world Supersport, recently crowned world champion, Gold Coast's Andrew Pitt, will head the start list on his Honda. Former Kawasaki MotoGP rider Anthony West also joins the fray full-time after a few superb cameos in 2007, while Mark Aitchison has defected from Triumph to make it all three Aussies on Hondas. Garry McCoy is looming large as the replacement for Aitchison at the Italian based Triumph team.
Crutchlow will be another leading light, as well as 2007 world champion Kenan Sofouglu, who is returning to the smaller class after a lean 2008 in WSBK. Sofouglu is effectively swapping places with Rea at Honda.