Just hours after stepping off the Assen podium with the 2003 World Superbike Championship trophy in his hands, Ducati Fila's Neil Hodgson faced up to questioning from the world's press. What follows is a transcript of Neil's press conference:
WHAT DOES THIS TITLE MEAN FOR YOU?
It means everything, the reward for 20 years hard work.
MANY PEOPLE SAY THAT WITH THE LOSS OF THE FACTORY TEAMS AND TOP RIDERS, THE CHAMPIONSHIP HAS BECOME DEVALUED. DO YOU SEE IT THAT WAY?
No, I beat everyone last year except Colin and Troy who were on factory bikes and Michelin tyres. I was very close to beating them on many occasions as well so I believed that I was going to be champion whoever I rode against this year if I was on the best bike and best tyres, which I was.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP IN YOUR OPINION?
I feel that when the championship needed a boost, it has taken a step down again and it can't really afford that.
IT WAS A FORMALITY BUT YOU STILL HAD TO WIN THE TITLE. DID YOU HAVE ANY MOMENTS THIS YEAR WHEN YOU LOST CONCENTRATION, SEEING AS YOUR LEAD WAS SO GREAT?
Everything went absolutely perfect until Misano where I lost 30 points in one weekend. And it changed my mentality and I rode defensive instead of attacking everything, which is a shame, but there again you win a championship with consistency.
WERE YOU BOTHERED BY THE FACT THAT YOU DIDN'T WIN THE FIRST RACE?
Yes, very much. But all I can say is I tried my best and I was so tense on the bike. My body was like a piece of iron and I was riding so bad.
ARE YOU GOING TO MOTOGP NEXT YEAR?
It looks like it's going to happen but anything can happen and it's not 100%.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU WILL GO IN MOTOGP?
I've learnt over the last few years that if you never give in, anything is achievable. I didn't think four years ago that I would become World Superbike champion. I'm not going to say I will be world champion but I will say that I will hopefully go to MotoGP and ride every lap of every race and give 100%.
WILL IT BE A PROBLEM FOR YOU TO GO TO MOTOGP OR SATISFACTION?
To be honest I would be happy to stay in World Superbikes, but the 'old' World Superbikes, because I've raced it now for many years. I understand Ducati, the circuits, the people, so my goal would be to win more championships than Foggy, but the decision has been made for me really because I have to ride against the best competition.
IT LOOKS AS IF YOU WON'T BE RIDING FOR THE FULL-FACTORY TEAM. WILL THIS BE A PROBLEM FOR YOU?
No, I don't think so because the Ducati looks very strong this year and that would eventually be the bike I'm riding. There will surely be less pressure than being in the factory team. And there is a goal, if I succeed then it will be a perfect step into the factory team.
THIS HAS BEEN THE FIRST SEASON DUCATI HAS NOT DONE MUCH PRE-SEASON TESTING. HOW HARD HAS THAT BEEN?
It's not been too easy, but in a way it's been good for me as a rider because it's made me work really hard every weekend at tracks. I can't waste a lap, every lap I've got to be on it to get the best information from the bike to get the handling better. It's a sensitive bike and I can only compare it to last year's bike, which had six or seven years development and did everything you wanted. On the 999 the parameters are wider, the bike is unbelievably fast and is so good. This will be good for me if I do go to MotoGP next year, because the bikes are more sensitive.
DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE SITTING HERE TODAY IF YOU HADN'T GONE BACK TO BRITISH SUPERBIKES AND TOUGHENED UP?
No, what could have happened was that if I had got a ride in 1999 in WSBK, things might have been different. I would probably have got spat out after three four years for being too old. I got spat out at 25 and won the championship when I was 26 so I still had a few more years left in me. I've got to thank GSE racing immensely, they were the right team at the right time and I've got to thank Darryl Healey, who gave me this opportunity. I was lucky to win the championship with them and be with a team that wanted to go to the next level, and win the world championship. He's like a member of the family now, but it's a shame I didn't win it for him. GSE built the foundations around me and Fila Ducati built the house!
DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR MICHELINS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN'T DO A LOT OF DEVELOPMENT WORK?
People think they didn't do as much development work, but I did three tests with Michelin and they turned up with 20 new tyres just because I didn't like the feeling at the front. They couldn't have worked much harder, they must have produced sixty tyres for me to test, which I'd never experienced before. They didn't really have to because I was leading the championship and going well. They realised I had a problem and so they worked hard. At the start of the season I was nervous about doing the transition from Dunlop to Michelin but I took to them like a duck to water. They are the best tyres I have ever used.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO BECOMING A FATHER ON TUESDAY?
Disappointingly, nowhere near! Being a dad was so much better. I actually am not that fond of babies and I was dreading Tuesday, but the bizarre feeling I had when Kathryn gave birth, nothing comes close to that, not even winning that second race and becoming world champion, sorry to say! On a scale of 1 to 10, ten was Tuesday and one was today and I genuinely mean that.
IS IT RIGHT THAT YOU HAVE BOUGHT A PORSCHE THAT YOU WILL DRIVE ONLY NOW YOU HAVE WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
Yes, it's true. When I was a child I had a little Porsche car and it was my dream. I went through school and wasn't very intelligent and didn't pass many exams, then I left school and I was a builder and I didn't think I'd ever own one. But I said if I can achieve my goal of winning the world championship then I will buy myself a Porsche 911 Turbo. When I get back to the Isle of Man, I'll go and collect it.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE OUT THERE WITH 30,000 UNION JACKS AND BRITISH FANS?
Absolutely mega! It's something I've dreamed of since being in Carl Fogarty's huge shadow. Seeing that and wanting it to be for me and now I've come here today and it's there. Not everyone is a Hodgson fan out there but it means the world to me and is very special.
WHAT DID CARL FOGARTY SAY TO YOU ON THE GRID FOR RACE 2?
He was actually very nice and congratulated me. Normally he says something sarcastic but he said 'Now you'll go a lot better! I could tell you were tense but I know you'll do well in this race'. Then he was talking about Holly Jean being born on Tuesday, on the 2nd September because that's when his first child Danielle was born. Quite a coincidence really, two world champions, both left-handers, both from ten miles apart, both started at the same schoolboy motocross club, very bizarre.
NEXT YEAR WHAT WILL THE WORLD SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP BE LIKE, WITH THE CHANGE IN REGULATIONS?
It's difficult to comment because I don't know what factory support there will be for the other manufacturers. I hope the factory-supported teams will be successful and that World Superbikes continues to be strong. It hurts me to think that it will continue to go down.
IT MUST BE A STRANGE FEELING FOR YOU COMING FROM 500 AND GOING TO GPS AGAIN AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?
It's strange how it all works out, I feel a little bit cheated because I felt I was quite a good two-stroke rider. In 1995 I was top privateer in my first year, I was 21 years old and arguably had quite a good future ahead of me. It all went wrong because I jumped into the most wanted seat in the paddock on a factory Ducati bike and I wasn't ready. I was expected to be the man and I wasn't and I lost my job. If you end up in a situation where you don't think you can win, then you won't and I had people around me who I thought were better than me, and they were better only because I thought they were. If you think you can beat people then you can, it's all mental, I'm convinced about that. Troy Bayliss will always be successful because he just doesn't care, he enjoys it, Troy is strong mentally. I feel like I'm always one step behind Troy. I was his team-mate in 1999 when he won the championship, then I won the year after. He then got into the factory Ducati team, and I did a couple of years after. He won the championship, now I've won it. He's gone to MotoGP and is doing well .....
DO YOU THINK IT'S AN ADVANTAGE THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY BEEN IN GPS?
Definitely, because I know what it's like. I've done three years already, I came to the Assen GP and I know nearly everyone so it's not daunting in that respect.
IS IT A DISADVANTAGE FOR THE BRITISH RIDERS THAT THEY HAVE SUCH A STRONG SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP AND THEY HAVE TO GO TO GP?
No, not really, I think it's better to have a strong Superbike championship because Superbike is always going to be the feeder for MotoGP. There are no real up-and-coming riders, but when they do come, if they win in Britain they might have an interesting future in MotoGP.