Hodgson equals record with ninth win
1 June 2003
Neil Hodgson moved one step closer to claiming the record for the number of consecutive wins in the World Superbike Championship, but was made to work from start to finish of race one at Oschersleben.
Despite starting from pole position, the Fila Ducati racer was only fourth as the field completed the opening lap - and it could have been worse had James Toseland and Gregorio Lavilla not taken each other into the turn one gravel trap. 'Blame' for the incident is hard to apportion, with Toseland admitting that he was aware he had touched another bike behind him but, other than a flash of yellow, was unaware of who it was.
''I heard the scrapes and knew he had fallen,'' he revealed later, ''but I don't know who it was.''
While Lavilla tumbled out of the race, Toseland somehow managed to carry on through the gravel trap and rejoined at the back of the field before embarking on a remarkable comeback ride.
At the front, Chris Walker seized the early initiative, but succumbed to Pierfrancesco Chili's early advances and dropped further behind as both Hodgson and Ruben Xaus forced their way past the HM Plant Ducati. The two red machines appeared to be moving in unison for, as Hodgson took third, Xaus moved up a place and then passed Walker as Hodgson assumed the lead.
Despite having closed on Chili, the English rider did not appear to have a major advantage, but the Italian waved him through into the lead as he thought he felt his bike tighten up.
''I had problems early on and I waved Neil through,'' Chili said of his decision, ''I know what can happen [in situations like that] and didn't want us to crash together.''
Once in front, however, Hodgson was unable to shake the PSG-1 Ducati from his tail and the two Italian machines remained in close contact right to the end.
If that was holding the crowd's attention, however, Toseland's fightback was quickly becoming the story of the race. Having resumed at the very back, the HM Plant rider quickly caught the slower runners and, having worked his way through them, made even quicker inroads into the midfield. By lap four, he was up to ninth place; by lap nine, it was sixth; and, having disposed of Steve Martin five laps later, homed in on the ensuing battle for third between team-mate Walker and Regis Laconi.
While Toseland closed in, another of the British contingent crash out in spectacular style. Having been granted special dispensation to start after failing to qualifying on either Friday or Saturday - and having admitted that riding in Saturday's wet session had increased his confidence in the Foggy FP1 - James Haydon overstepped the mark once too often at Hasseroder and tumbled, gymnast-like, out of the event.
Once onto the tail of the Walker-Laconi battle, Toseland made short work of claiming a podium position by passing both riders in the space of a lap. The youngster was flying, lapping faster than anyone else on the track, but had run out of the laps he would have needed to close in and catch the leaders. Nevertheless a podium finish having been in the gravel at turn one was still a great achievement.
''I have never given up,'' Toseland insisted, ''I knew I was reasonably fast, and I rejoined not far behind the back of the pack, so I was able to get back up there quite quickly. A few people fell off too, which obviously helped!''
The battle for the lead continued right to the final corner, with Chili's earlier problems obviously not hindering his progress too much. Approaching the tight right-hander that closes out the Oschersleben lap, the Italian opted for a wide entry and tight exit, only to find Hodgson closing the door on any opportunity to pass. The frustration was clear to see, but Chili still congratulated the victor on his achievement.
''I tried to pass him at the last corner, but Neil braked very hard,'' he explained, ''I had the line, but he came back in and left me with no option but to back off the throttle.''
For Hodgson, the victory tied Colin Edwards' record of nine in a row, but he refused to be drawn on whether a tenth straight win was possible.
''It doesn't get any easier,'' he smiled, ''I didn't get a good start, but that is probably a good thing. My luck is really flying at the moment and, had I made a good start, I could have been taken down at the bottleneck. I can't believe that James got out of there - and to see him here [on the podium], well, I have to take my hat off to him.''