On the back of Eugene Laverty’s double world Superbike success on Sunday at Monza in Italy, the question now being asked is can we have an Ulster world champion by the time the 13-round series ends at Portimao in Portugal on October 16?
Currently we have Jonathan Rea (Castrol Honda) and the Yamaha WSB of Laverty in fourth and fifth positions in the title chase separated by a mere four points.
When you consider the competitiveness of the World Superbike Championship, to have two local riders battling for race wins and possibly even the Championship is nothing short of remarkable.
Rea had a particularly difficult start to his campaign with high-speed practice crashes in Australia, salvaging points in both races before winning his first race of the season at Assen.
At Monza, though, he had a disappointing day finishing sixth in race one only to be involved in a first corner melee in race two and crashing out.
“It was a frustrating day especially in race one when we just didn’t have the top end speed so essential at Monza,” said Rea.
“In race two I felt like I got clipped from the side, which forced me up and into the guy on the outside.
“The championship still has a long way to go and huge points to be won or lost, so hopefully we can bounce back at the next round.”
The weekend, however, belonged to Laverty, a rookie in World Superbike, after runner-up finishes in the World Supersport Championship for the last two years.
He joined the factory Yamaha team for 2011 and said prior to the season: “For me this is just a learning year on a Superbike and I would be aiming for podiums by mid-season.”
The hugely talented 24-year-old rider from Toomebridge has exceeded all expectations so far.
And his sensational display at Monza, shrugging off the challenges of world champion Max Biaggi and his team-mate, ex-Grand Prix rider Marco Melandri, have catapulted him up the Championship rankings from 11 position to fifth.
Laverty said: “I’ll remember those two wins for a long time. I came to Monza aiming for my first podium finish in World Superbike, but to come away with two wins is fantastic, even more so with it being the team’s home race, as they are based literally just around the corner.
“In race one I just kept pushing and Biaggi eventually made a couple of mistakes allowing me enough breathing space at the front to win.
“In race two I was slow off the line and then I had to avoid an accident at the first corner where I nearly collided with Jonathan, causing me to lose a lot of time.
“I also struggled with the tyres in the really hot conditions, but when it came to the last few laps I couldn’t believe my luck that it was just Marco and myself dicing for the win, as Biaggi had made another crucial mistake.
“I still can’t believe I got the double victory.”
The team now head to Aragon in Spain for testing later this week in preparation for the next round of the Championship at Salt Lake City in the United States in three weeks time.