2 March 2003
Hodgson walks race one.
Neil Hodgson took a comparatively easy win in the race one season opener at Valencia, which saw the factory team-mates in a class of their own, while the HM Plant boys battled to the flag for the final podium position.
It was HM Plant rider James Toseland, second on the grid behind Hodgson, who snatched the lead into turn one, from Xaus, with Walker getting the best start of the front runners to take third, ahead of Hodgson and Corser. But within a few turns Hodgson had forced his way inside Walker and settled into third behind his team-mate.
Home hero Juan Borja had unwanted excitement on lap 2 as he ran massively wide into turn one, sending him across the deep gravel, and only a long U-turn with appropriate foot paddling saw him back on track.
Meanwhile, the top four were soon starting to stretch away from Corser's Foggy Petronas, who now had his own problems in the form of Laconi, Martin and Lavilla.
But still leading confidently was 22 year old Toseland, although Xaus was getting ever desperate to overtake the number 52, while Hodgson watched his every move in third, with Walker still in close attendance.
While Xaus searched for a way past the orange and white machine, he was surprised by a brave move from Hodgson, who squeezed inside the Spaniard and forced the #11 to pick up his 999 into the tight final turn. Then, just one lap later [lap 4 of 23], Hodgson slipstreamed past his former team-mate Toseland along the main straight to take the lead – and never looked back.
Xaus, seeing his team-mate disappear, relegated Toseland to third one lap later before settling off after the effortless #100. Xaus would keep the gap between them to within 1sec for the next 10 laps or so, but in the final few laps Hodgson eased ever further ahead for a comfortable 5secs victory.
Behind the Ducati Filas, the HM Plant team-mates were providing the fight of the race as they battled for the final podium spot from lap 5 to 23. Toseland held the intuitive until just before the half way mark, when his increasingly unstable 998 stepped out one time too many and allowed Walker through.
But the former Kawasaki star was himself on the limit and the pair were rarely separated by more than a second as they slid around the windy circuit, with an ecstatic Walker just holding on for a podium on his HM Plant debut. Toseland, though will be out for revenge in race two.
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