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hodgson on top of the world

Sunday 7th september 2003

Words: Simon Bradley
Pictures copyright SBK International/Simon Bradley

Well, having proven the gainsayers wrong for most of the season, Neil Hodgson headbutted his critics to their knees by taking the World Superbike crown with a second place in race one before karate-chopping them to oblivion with a hard fought but emphatic victory in race two.

Frankie Chili took advantage of his outstanding Superpole efforts to claim an initial advantage although he soon yielded to the pressure of having two factory Ducati 999s breathing down his neck and slipped back into the clutches of James Toseland in fourth place. A race long duel would see the elder statesman of superbike racing prevail over the young pretender once more.

A disappointing race for Suzuki, though, with Gregorio Lavilla making a sudden and dramatic exit when the front of his GSX-R 1000 just let go and Rizla Suzuki wildcard John Reynolds retiring with broken rear suspension. Indeed, the first race was one of attrition for many teams, with Regis Laconi and Juan Borja joining the 10 retirements in the 16 lap race. Assen's reputation as a tyre shredder remains intact.

Up at the front, though, Hodgson and Xaus were at it hammer and tongs, with just under a second between them and the next battle of Chili and Toseland. Chris Walker, riding shotgun behind his GSE team-mate, was there to pick up the pieces shoudl anything go wrong, although in reality he was never really in serious contention as the severe beating he received when he came off at around 80mph in qualifying had taken the edge off his riding. An unfamiliar sight in the top 10 was Troy Corser, bringing the Foggy FP-1 home in 6th place ahead of Leon Haslam on the Renegade Ducati. Hot on young Haslam's heels was Ivan Clementi, riding a blinder of a race on the outgunned and outdated 750 Kawasaki, while his team-mate Mauro Sanchini came in 10th behind Steve Martin.

Crossing the line at the end of the last lap, victory in the race went to Xaus with the championship going to Hodgson.

Race two saw a fantastic start from everyone except pole-sitter Frankie Chili who came out of the first turn back in 7th place. Neil Hodgson got the holeshot this time, with Xaus, Lavilla, Toseland, Laconi, Reynolds and Chili all within easy striking distance.

Any suggestion that Hodgson would be taking it easy went straight out of the window as he and Xaus fought possibly the longest and closest battle of the season so far. Gregorio Lavilla showed his, and the 1000cc Suzuki's, mettle by staying right in the hunt as the leaders managed to keep an crippling pace which dropped the rest of the field away. Behind the leading trio another epic battle was taking place between Chili and Toseland, this time with the added spice of Regis Laconi and Chris Walker. Walker's injuries started to tell and he gradually dropped off the pace as Toseland finally managed to see off both Chili and Laconi before retiring with a rear tyre failure.

John Reynolds, perhaps overly anxious to make up for his retirement in race 1, went grasstracking early in the 2nd lap, rejoining the field back in 17th and dropping further back before regrouping and slicing his way back up, finishing a very respectable 10th. What would have happened had he not made that early mistake is anyone's guess. Wildcard rider Leon Haslam rode brilliantly to finish 6th behind Frankie Chili whose rear tyre had also given up trying to harness 160hp and decided to disintegrate. Ivan Clementi hauled his ancient Kawasaki to a fantastic 7th place with battered Chris Walker, now having to contend with a failing tyre as well as his injuries, ending up in 8th position. Troy Corser rounded off a pretty good weekend for the Foggy team by bringing the FP-1 home in 9th.

Hodgson and Xaus, in the meantime, managed to break away from Lavilla in the last two laps. Xaus tried everything he could, including even going off the track on the last lap, but couldn't find a way past his team-mate.

So Neil Hodgson has had a memorable week. He became a father and became World Superbike Champion. It doesn't get much better than that.

Results

Race 1

1 R Xaus, Ducati
2 N Hodgson, Ducati
3 P-FChili, Ducati
4 J Toseland, Ducati
5 C Walker, Ducati
6 T Corser, Foggy-Petronas
7 L Haslam, Ducati
8 I Clementi, Kawasaki
9 S Martin, Ducati
10 M Sanchini, Kawasaki

Race 2

1 N Hodgson, Ducati
2 R Xaus, Ducati
3 G Lavilla, Suzuki
4 R Laconi, Ducati
5 P-FChili, Ducati
6 L Haslam, Ducati
7 I Clementi, Kawasaki
8 C Walker, Ducati
9 T Corser, Foggy-Petronas
10 J Reynolds, Suzuki

Championship Positions

431 N Hodgson, Ducati (2003 World Champion)
291 R Xaus, Ducati
240 J Toseland, Ducati
221 R Laconi, Ducati
201 G Lavilla, Suzuki
191 C Walker, Ducati
186 P-FChili, Ducati
109 S Martin, Ducati
098 M Borciani, Ducati
097 L Pedercini, Ducati

 

 

 


Congratulations, Neil, on the birth of your daughter Holly-Jo.

Oh, and on winning the World Superbikes Championship !

 

 

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