The 2003 World Superbike Championship culminates in France this weekend as the riders descend on Magny Cours, one of the most modern tracks on the racing calendar.

The 2003 World Superbike Championship culminates in France this weekend as the riders descend on Magny Cours, one of the most modern tracks on the racing calendar.

Neil Hodgson, recently crowned 2003 World Champion, heads the list of contenders in what is expected to be his final SBK outing before moving to MotoGP next season. Though the Brit has found his Ducati 999 a difficult machine to set-up at some venues, it has not stopped him scoring a walloping 12 race wins thus far.

Most recently, Hodgson's dominance has come under serious threat from his team-mate Ruben Xaus. After a dreadful start to the season, Xaus has combined consistency with his awesome speed and machine control in recent races, and has won six of the last ten outings, helping his GP campaign.

Five riders have won at least one race this season, with James Toseland and Pierfrancesco Chili the two regular SBK competitors on the top of the score sheet. Toseland and the hugely experienced Chili have each squeezed enough out of their respective 2003 machines to take a single win – Toseland at Oschersleben and Chili at Laguna Seca.

NCR Ducati's Regis Laconi will be looking towards Magny Cours with special excitement, this being the first opportunity he has had in his SBK experience to race on home soil. Laconi has yet to score a win this season, despite several outstanding performances on a customer spec machine.

A win at Magny Cours would highlight an excellent return to the SBK fray and, having just gone third in the series overall, Laconi will also be keen to secure not one but two good finishes, to keep ahead of Toseland in the championship table – the man he's tipped to team up with at the Fila Ducati team next season.

Off the track, debate is likely to continue over the controversial 2004 rules, particularly the rule forcing all teams to use Pirelli tyres – a decision which has now resulted in rival manufacturer Dunlop complaining to the European Union.