Assen (Netherlands), Sunday 7 September: Britain's Neil Hodgson (Ducati Fila) wrapped up the 2003 World Superbike Championship with second place in race 1 behind Ruben Xaus and a thrilling victory in race 2 at the Dutch circuit today. Hodgson, who needed just ten points to clinch the title, and his Spanish team-mate put on a fantastic show for the 76,000 strong crowd, which included thousands of British supporters who had crossed the Channel to see Hodgson's title win.
Hodgson becomes the second British rider to win the Superbike crown after Ducati legend Carl Fogarty, and the tenth Ducati rider to win the coveted world title. The Italian manufacturer has dominated the 2003 WSBK championship for streetbike-derived machines and this year, with the new-for-2003 Ducati 999, it has won both the Riders' and Manufacturers' titles.
Ducati Motor Holding President Federico Minoli, commenting on the victory, said: "This is another important chapter in the history of Ducati and the championship-winning 999 will take its pride of place in the Ducati museum! We are very proud of the 999's performance in its first year of racing".
Ducati Corse managing director Claudio Domenicali added: "This is a historic moment for Ducati. Winning the riders' and manufacturers' titles in the 999's first year, in a year in which Ducati has had many commitments, is a prestigious achievement. Substituting the 998 was not an easy task but we have managed to prove that the 999 is already an exceptional machine and that Neil has become a successful and mature rider in his first year with us. This victory has also come about thanks to the support of all our partners and sponsors and special thanks must go to Shell, who developed specific Advance lubricants for our engines, and Michelin, with whom we have now won seven riders' titles".
"It hasn't sunk in yet" declared Neil immediately after he stepped off the podium. "All I can think about is the race, which I was trying to win. I've never suffered from concentration so bad, but at a certain point I was thinking 'this is it, this is it, I'm world champion'. I've been focussed all weekend but because of the battle with Ruben, I just tensed up and was unable to relax and go for the race win.
"It means so much to me to win this championship" he added. "I've been racing since 1990, I've had an up-and-down career but now I've proved a few people wrong by winning the title and I truly feel I can move on from here. I'd just like to dedicate the title to Kathryn and our baby girl, as well as my chief engineer and right-hand man Ernesto Marinelli, who couldn't make it here due to a recent accident".
Ruben Xaus, who rode a storming race to take his fourth win of the year in race 1, immediately congratulated his Ducati Fila team-mate on his championship victory. "Congratulations to Neil and Ducati Fila, who have done a fantastic job all through the year. It was a pretty difficult race because there was so much tension between Neil and myself. I didn't want to make any mistakes but I did, throughout the race. Sometimes I was faster than him, and he was faster than me, we had to take the battle right down to the last lap, when I think Neil relaxed a bit because he knew he was going to be world champion".
The Ducati 999's triumphant day was completed with another victory for the promising young Italian Lorenzo Lanzi (Team Rox Ducati) in the round of the European Superstock Championship.
RACE 1: 1. Xaus (Ducati Fila); 2. Hodgson (Ducati Fila); 3. Chili (PSG-1 Ducati); 4. Toseland (HM Plant Ducati); 5. Walker (HM Plant Ducati); 6. Corser (Petronas); RACE 2: 1. Hodgson; 2. Xaus; 3. Lavilla (Suzuki); 4. Laconi (Ducati NCR); 5. Chili; 6. Haslam (Renegade Ducati).
POINTS (after 10 of 12 rounds): 1. Hodgson 431; 2. Xaus 291; 3. Toseland 240; 4. Laconi 221; 5. Lavilla 201; 6. Walker 191; etc. Manufacturers - 1. Ducati 500; 2. Suzuki 251; 3. Kawasaki 101; 4. Petronas 92; 5. Yamaha 56; 6. Honda 25.
TV COVERAGE: Eurosport - Sunday 7 September, 2315 Race 1 & 2 (highlights), Eurosport News, 1200 Race 1 (live), 1530 Race 2 (live). RAI TV (Italy) - Monday 8 September, 0120 Race 1 & 2 (highlights).
WEBSITE: For more information and photos, check out our website: www.ducati.com/racing