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Hodgson seals World title in style.

Burnley's Neil Hodgson confirmed his status as 2003 World Superbike Champion with a stylish second place to factory Ducati teammate Ruben Xaus in the first race of the day at Assen.

The 29 year-old English born rider wrapped up the title with five races remaining in the season despite having to give best to his Spanish teammate in a pulsating race-long battle around Assen's sinuous 6km layout.

Hodgson, who earlier this week celebrated the birth of his first baby, a daughter named Holly, missed out on his 12th race victory of the season by just six tenths of a second but still became Briton's first World Superbike Champion since Carl Fogarty claimed his last title in 1999.

Hodgson, Xaus and fellow Ducati men Frankie Chili and James Toseland spent most of the 16-laps tied together after early race leader Gregorio Lavilla lost the front end of his Suzuki two-thirds of the way around the forth lap.

Xaus, who was looking especially aggressive, went faring to faring with Hodgson on almost every lap, swapping the lead with his teammate three times on the last two laps as poleman Chili and Toseland kept a close watching brief, waiting for disaster to strike.

However after the Spaniard pulled ahead for good on Assen's curiously named back 'straight' and then kept his front wheel in front through the re-profiled final section leading into the final chicane. Hodgson, who had been stronger through the final turn all race, showed that he was in no way simply riding for points as he made a late, late stab to the inside of Xaus, but the Spaniard's strength during the preceding sector meant that the former British schoolboy Motocross rider couldn't make the pass and lost momentum.

Less than one second behind Xaus, who earned victory number four on the season, Chili nipped past Toseland for third in the final chicane with Toseland's beaten-up HM Plant Racing teammate Chris Walker rounding out the top five, 14-seconds behind Xaus after bravely hanging onto the leading bunch for the first half of the race.

Troy Corser put in one of his best performances of the season as he passed wildcard Leon Haslam and inspired Kawasaki privateer Ivan Clementi on the final lap to take sixth position on his much improved three-cylinder Foggy Petronas machine while Aussie Steve Martin and Italian Mauro Sanchini rounded out the top ten.

Wildcards filled out most of the rest of the points scorers with Alex Gramigni taking his Yamaha to eleventh position, Horst Saiger finishing 13th on his Yamaha and Gianmaria Liverani scoring two points for 14th position on the UnionBike GiMotorsport YZF R1 originally ridden by Giovanni Bussei.

In addition to the distraught Lavilla, John Reynolds and Regis Laconi both made early exits with mechanical problems while Vitto Iannuzzo, James Haydon and David Garcia all failed to make the start.



Related Pictures

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Neil Hodgson.
Neil Hodgson on his Ducati Fila 999 at Assen.
Xaus at Assen (Pic: Ducati Corse Photographic Archive).
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