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xaus rules at imola

Sunday 28th september 2003

Words: Simon Bradley
Pictures copyright SBK International/Simon Bradley

Neil Hodgson may be the World Champion but that doesn't mean that his team mate and closest challenger Reuben Xaus has to defer to him. And so Xaus showed in spectacular in Imola, completing a hard fought double - his first this season.

Race one saw Xaus capitalise on his first Superpole victory to take an early lead, closely followed by Hodgson, Toseland, Laconi and Walker. Halfway through the first lap, however, a promising start went all pear shaped as Toseland retired with a broken gearshift and Xaus and Hodgson rapidly extended an unassailable lead. Laconi must not have been able to believe his luck as a third place would put him within a couple of points of Toseland for third in the championship. Walker and Lavilla weren't going to take it lying down, though, and set about catching the Frenchman while having their own private battle as well. This got closer and closer until, coming out of one of the many chicanes on the circuit, Lavilla tried a somewhat over ambitious pass which resulted in the two bikes becoming tangled and Walker being dumped in the gravel. Steve Martin on the DFX Ducati rode a storming race as well, ending up in sixth ahead of Troy Corser on the Foggy Petronas.

Up at the front some pretty robust position swapping was going on, to the extent that both Hodgson and Xaus had to wave an apology at some point. Still, they managed to avoid taking each other out and for a while it looked as though Hodgson might have it after a beautifully clean pass put him clear with just 2 laps to go. But some fortuitous back markers queered the pitch and allowed Xaus to get back on the final lap and cross the line a massive three seconds clear of the champion, who had ended up needing to take to the grass to avoid a collision.

But what of local hero Frankie Chili? His engine died on the grid after the warmup lap, meaning he needed to push the bike over to the pitlane where, despite his frantic waving to be allowed to get it started, the lights went out and the race left without him. So there he was, in the pitlane with a dead engine and rapidly cooling tyres. A lesser man would have given up and gone home, but Pier Francesco Chili is made of sterner stuff. Half a lap down by the time he got out of the pits, he took advantage of the clear track to put in some storming laps and sliced his way through the field to finish in an astonishing fifth place. Man of the meeting? I should say so.

Race two was surprisingly similar to race one. But different. This time it was Hodgson who got the holeshot and made the running for the first part of the race. With Xaus hanging onto his coat tails, the Ducati rider pulled out a huge lead over the rest of the field but was unable to lose his team-mate. Again. A far more orderly affair than the first race saw fewer do or die overtake attempts between the leading pair. Indeed, although the blistering pace meant that it could hardly be described as pedestrian, the leaders did seem to be riding a series of demonstration laps rather than racing. Until Xaus got past, that is.

Further down the field, Laconi took third for a while before being overwhelmed by a hard charging and out for blood James Toseland, who proceeded to pull steadily away at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately, the nightmare that was this weekend in the GSE camp continued as the only blood Toseland drew was his own, ending up in the medical centre after a high speed getoff and gifting third place in the championship to his likely team-mate next year, Regis Laconi. Gregorio Lavilla and Chris Walker renewed their earlier battle, both managing to stay on board this time, with the spoils again going to Lavilla who managed to make the superior speed of his full factory machine work against the older Ducati.

Up at the front, though, things were getting heated as Hodgson decided that no, he did not want to finish in second place again. An aggressive but neat pass put him back in front but a few corners later an uncharacteristic error saw him leave the track. He managed to keep the bike both upright and running as he skated the kitty litter, leaving him only needing to turn around and blast down a service road. It says much for the gap that he had built up over the rest of the field that he rejoined immediately behind Chris Walker, who was running in fourth place, and it says much for his riding skill that despite the major upset to his rhythm he was able to pass his old rival and regain fourth for himself. Xaus, of course, won by a clear 12 seconds from a very happy Laconi with Lavilla getting the big Suzuki onto the podium yet again. Frankie's dire weekend also continued as his engine let go halfway through the race, while James Haydon failed to finish either race with the FP-1 suffering engine problems.


Race 1

1 R Xaus, Ducati
2 N Hodgson, Ducati
3 R Laconi, Ducati
4 G Lavilla, Suzuki
5 P-FChili, Ducati
6 S Martin, Ducati
7 T Corser, Foggy-Petronas
8 M Sanchini, Kawasaki
9 I Clementi, Kawasaki
10 M Borciani, Ducati

Race 2

1 R Xaus, Ducati
2 R Laconi, Ducati
3 G Lavilla, Suzuki
4 N Hodgson, Ducati
5 C Walker, Ducati
6 L Pedercini, Ducati
7 T Corser, Foggy-Petronas
8 M Sanchini, Kawasaki
9 J Borja, Ducati
10 D Garcia, Ducati

Championship Positions

464 N Hodgson, Ducati (2003 World Champion)
341 R Xaus, Ducati
257 R Laconi, Ducati
240 J Toseland, Ducati
230 G Lavilla, Suzuki
202 C Walker, Ducati
197 P-FChili, Ducati
119 S Martin, Ducati
109 M Borciani, Ducati
107 L Pedercini, Ducati

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