James Toseland, Regis Laconi, Noriyuki Haga and the young Chris Vermeulen are geared for WSBK action with only 14 points separating the four contenders with two legs remaining in the season.

James Toseland, Regis Laconi, Noriyuki Haga and the young Chris Vermeulen are geared for WSBK action with only 14 points separating the four contenders with two legs remaining in the season.

The quick and curvy Imola circuit plays host to this weekend's racing. With average lap times recorded at 160 km/h, Imola is one of the fastest tracks on the calendar and a firm favourite among the riders.

Laconi (Ducati Fila) led the standings before being ousted by his team-mate, Toseland, at the previous round in Assen. Ten points behind Laconi, who is the only current rider to have won at Assen before, he holds third place going into the Imola race.

Threatening form can again be expected from rookie Vermeulen who has already had a blistering first season to be in second place on the leader board. Riding the Ten Kate Honda, he trails Laconi by three points leading into the race.

Another Ducati rider Haga is the most experienced of the top four, but has yet to record a win at the Italian circuit. However, he only rivals Laconi with his winning record of five wins this season.

Veteran rider Pierfranceso Chili has won one race this season and while he may be 42 points off the lead, the flamboyant local hero may be as entertaining as ever.

Ducati's Garry McCoy could find things going his way at the fast Imola track and may be able to add to he single win and two podium places this season.

Other riders searching for their first wins this season are Leon Haslam, Steve Martin, and the 900 cm3, three-cylinder Petronas FP-1 pairing of Troy Corser and Chris Walker. All of these riders have already secured podium finishes, but the ultimate prize still eludes him.

New rules governing the riders' machinery in 2004 has been attributed to the closely contested season this year. Competition has been especially stiff leading up to this round with only the Valencia leg remaining.