Assen (Netherlands), Friday 5 September: Neil Hodgson (Ducati Fila) started off this weekend's crucial Dutch round of the World Superbike championship in fine style with provisional third place in Friday qualifying at the Assen TT Circuit.
The 29 year-old British rider, who needs just 10 points to clinch this year's title, was quickest throughout the morning's free practice session on his Ducati 999 F03 and topped the timesheets on race tyres until three minutes from the end of first qualifying, which was interrupted when a slower rider crashed. With all riders then on qualifying tyres, Neil was edged out of the top two places by Lavilla and Walker.
"Everything felt good, it was great to be back on the bike after such a long break" declared Neil. "The bike feels hard round here because it's a physical track, but luckily I've done a lot of training recently. My 999 is quite smooth through the corners but there is certainly a bit more to come. It probably won't improve the lap times much, because the bike just feels harder to move around than last year. I didn't really ride too well in the last couple of minutes because I had spent most of the time on race tyres. The plan tomorrow is to try more tyres and do race distance as always. Obviously I've had a lot on my mind recently but now it feels fantastic to be back on the bike again, and I know I've got a job to do this weekend".
Team-mate Ruben Xaus said he felt a little rusty after the five-week break but was convinced that there was more to come on the second Fila Ducati 999.
"It wasn't easy because I felt a bit rusty after the holidays and not riding the bike" said Ruben. "It's more a question of set-up and reaction to fast corners, because I spent the summer riding supermoto bikes and it's not easy to get back into the swing, with the Assen corners coming at you one after another. I find the rear a bit stiff and not reacting, but I'm sure we can solve that problem and then we can be good. If we can find a tenth everywhere I know we can be up at the front because last year I did 2'01 easily. It'll come tomorrow, I feel sure".
TIMES: 1. Lavilla (Suzuki) 2'02.603; 2. Walker (HM Plant Ducati) 2'02.736; 3. Hodgson (Ducati Fila) 2'02.834; 4. Chili (PSG-1 Ducati) 2'03.112; 5. Xaus (Ducati Fila) 2'03.137; 6. Clementi (Kawasaki) 2'03.370; 7. Laconi (NCR Ducati) 2'03.539; 8. Toseland (HM Plant Ducati) 2'03.553; etc.