Ruben Xaus overcame newly crowned champion team-mate Neil Hodgson to score a superb double victory at Imola yesterday, enabling the Spaniard to clinch second in the championship with one round to go.

"My plan was to start from pole, be first into the first corner and win, win because I know I had a good set-up and good pace," declared Ruben. "In the second race Neil was braking really hard and then I was second. He was fast in some places and I was faster in others, so it was not easy to be behind him.

"I wanted to pass but couldn't so I said OK and wait," he continued. "Then I was past but I didn't see that Neil had gone off. These race wins are dedicated to my crew, because we have become a fantastic team together in the second part of the season."

In collaboration with its French tyre supplier Michelin, Ducati Corse fitted their 999s with grooved rear tyres in race two, an experiment that proved to be successful.

Nicolas Goubert, Head of Michelin motorcycle racing competition declared: "We wanted to prove that well-designed grooved Michelin tyres can deliver good performance. Thanks to Ducati we have proved today that grooved tyres are well-adapted to racing motorcycles close to production like Superbikes."

"The tyres were fine," added Xaus. "Michelin wanted to show to everyone that they can win with a street tyre design and they did today. We did even better lap times than the slick tyres in race one."

Meanwhile, Hodgson was a frustrated man, being forced to settle for second and fourth after two hard charging rides: The Brit battled his Spanish team-mate right to the flag in race one, but was relegated to fourth in race two after a trip into the gravel at the Tosa corner.

"I always want to win and was frustrated not to. The back-markers were the same for everyone and it was really difficult to pass two side-by-side. No excuses, I rode well and Rubens won the race," declared Neil after the first race.

"That's racing," he then added about his trip into the gravel in race two. "I just backed in really aggressive, the bike gripped and almost high-sided me. It was good racing today and in that second race the tyre gave a lot of feeling and grip. I know I could have got Ruben because I was riding well and I always go for the win but I'm not complaining about the result."

The exciting performances put ion by both riders, had new team sponsor Fila delighted at their efforts - and looking forward to continuing their partnership next year.

"We are proud to be associated with the winning team of the 2003 World Superbike Championship and we look forward to another fantastic year in 2004," said Jon Epstein, President and CEO of Sport Brands.

Next year's Fila line-up is likely to include Xaus and Regis Laconi, with Hodgson expected to move to MotoGP. However, rumours at Imola also suggested Xaus may move to the AMA Superbike series.



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