Hodgson (Ducati Fila) faces up to toughest week of his life
Ducati Fila's Neil Hodgson is currently experiencing the proverbial 'calm before the storm' as he faces up to one of the biggest challenges of his career next week.
But for the Isle of Man resident, who needs just ten points to clinch the World Superbike championship title with three rounds to go, the month of August has been anything but calm.
The small matter of winning the 2003 crown pales into insignificance when compared with the exhausting and potentially nerve-wracking experiences of moving house, which Neil and wife Kathryn completed in mid-August, and the birth of their first child, which is scheduled for the first week in September.
Despite the pressure, Neil is bearing up under all the strain and with just a couple of days to go before Kathryn enters hospital and a week before Neil arrives in Holland for the crucial Dutch round of the championship, we caught up with him during final preparations for the biggest challenge of his life.
HOW ARE YOU FEELING ON THE EVE OF POSSIBLY THE BIGGEST RACE OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
I feel really awesome and my batteries are totally recharged. After Brands Hatch I didn't realise how run-down I was and how much the pressure of leading the championship and the obligations of riding for a manufacturer like Ducati were taking on me. With all that has happened since Brands Hatch, I have only been able to recharge my batteries this week and now I am ready to come out fighting, like I was at the start of the season.
AT THE MOMENT THOUGH YOUR MIND IS ALSO FOCUSSED ON THE BIRTH OF YOUR FIRST CHILD. HAS THAT HELPED IN ANY WAY?
It's actually been really nice. Obviously it's a lifetime ambition for me to win the title and in the last five weeks since Brands the pressure has certainly been on, but with Kathryn expecting our first child and us moving house, it has all taken my mind off it. It's a period of joy, our families are very close and I need the support of the family around me to keep sane with all the pressure.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP DECIDER?
There's just no point in doing it any differently to any other race. I've been training like I was at the start of the season, and cycling like a lunatic - I reckon I could enter the Tour de France! After Brands I felt weak and drained but I've also been doing some weights and feel stronger than I was one month ago. When you are physically fit, it helps you to be mentally fit as well, so now I feel I'm back up to full strength.
HAS THE ARRIVAL OF FABIANO STERLACCHINI AS YOUR RACE ENGINEER TO REPLACE THE INJURED ERNESTO MARINELLI MADE ANY DIFFERENCE TO YOUR APPROACH?
It was a bit of a setback to hear that Ernesto Marinelli had been injured in a road accident just before Brands Hatch, but Fabiano did a great job in England and together we're feeling confident for Assen. I also want to win the title in Holland for Ernesto, with whom I've managed to establish a great working relationship since the start of the year.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ASSEN CIRCUIT?
Assen is a fast track and it carries a lot of corner speed so good upper body strength is needed as you have to wrestle the bike around the circuit.
AND THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF THE TRACK?
The middle part, which is called a straight but is anything but. It's flat-out but it's difficult to move the bike around as it's very physical. The weather always plays a hand at Assen as well. It's a bit of a mixed bag with rain showers and sun all the time but despite that the track is still pretty grippy.
WHAT'S YOUR FORM AND BEST RESULTS SO FAR AT ASSEN?
My form is average but that actually seems to be a good omen. It's been a most bizarre year because the tracks I've been dreading like Valencia I've done real good at, while Brands Hatch and Laguna Seca, which are my favourite circuits, I really had to struggle. My best position at Assen is fourth last year but I was on for a third before Haga ran into me.
YOU HAVEN'T WON SINCE SILVERSTONE. HAS THIS BEEN ON YOUR MIND IN THE LAST FEW ROUNDS?
Yeah, absolutely, I don't get any enjoyment from just riding around and not winning. Brands Hatch was a killer, we knew it was going to be tough with the bad weather over the weekend and all the wild-card riders so second place in race 1 was like a win for me. It wasn't the best weekend but it was a step closer to winning the title.
YOU ONLY NEED TEN POINTS FOR THE TITLE. DO YOU AIM TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP BY PLAYING IT SAFE OR GOING ALL OUT TO GET THE 25 POINTS?
Going all out for the win is the plan but if that doesn't work and I get eleven points for fifth place then I'll say that I had it planned all along!
THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF RUMOURS FLYING AROUND AT THE MOMENT. HAVE YOU HAD ANY FURTHER THOUGHTS ON YOUR FUTURE?
It's a strange situation, nothing has changed recently. At the moment, although nothing has been decided, it's looking like MotoGP but in any case I'm really excited about the future and about being on the grid next year with a Ducati!