Hodgson Faces American Challenge in 2005 Bologna (Italy), 12 November 2004: The 2003 World SBK champion Neil Hodgson will be returning to Superbikes next year, lining up alongside Eric Bostrom in the two-rider Parts Unlimited Ducati Austin...
Hodgson Faces American Challenge in 2005
Bologna (Italy), 12 November 2004: The 2003 World SBK champion Neil Hodgson will be returning to Superbikes next year, lining up alongside Eric Bostrom in the two-rider Parts Unlimited Ducati Austin team for a totally new challenge - the Ducati Corse attack on the AMA Superbike championship.
The 30-year-old from Burnley, England (born November 20, 1973) comes off the back of a difficult season in MotoGP but is relishing the thought of this new challenge, where he will come up against riders of the calibre of multiple AMA title winner Mat Mladin, the legendary Miguel Duhamel and ex-Ducati L&M factory WSBK rider Ben Bostrom as well as brother Eric, on unfamiliar circuits like Daytona, Brainerd and Road Atlanta.
We caught up with Neil to ask him for his thoughts on next season:
NEIL, ARE YOU HAPPY TO BE BACK WITH DUCATI CORSE?
I felt like I never left actually because my contract ran through, but it's great to be back anyway. I'm definitely happy to be racing Superbikes again. I enjoyed my experience of riding MotoGP bikes but I'm not going to miss them. In that championship, you only have a chance of winning if you are in the right team on the right bike.
AND I WOULD IMAGINE YOU'RE HAPPY TO BE BACK ON A 999?
Yes, really happy. It's the bike I made my name on last year. I know a lot of people think the Ducati 999 was the best bike in the world when I rode it and then everyone got on it and started criticising it. I think it's an absolute winner, it suits my style and I can't wait to get back on and burn some laps.
WHAT SORT OF A CHALLENGE WILL AMA SUPERBIKE BE?
A huge challenge and a lot of people are underestimating how difficult it's going to be. I'm not, I know what lies ahead but I'm also aware that Ducati are making a major effort to win this title. It's not going to be a walk in the park, it looks like it's going to be the toughest year in my career and I'm going there to fight and enjoy my racing. If all goes according to plan, then hopefully I can win the title, but I know it's going to be the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
YOU'LL BE RACING AT SEVERAL UNFAMILIAR TRACKS LIKE MID-OHIO, BRAINERD AND PIKES PEAK - ANY THOUGHTS ON THAT?
Yes, I've never even heard of half of them! All I know is that I've watched a lot of AMA races this year and the tracks look fantastic, a few dodgy ones, but the general layout of most of the circuits looks really imaginative, similar to English tracks, a bit old, undulating but with a lot of character. People say they are dangerous but motorcycle racing is dangerous anyway. I'm not a crasher so it should suit my style.
AND OF COURSE YOU'LL HAVE ERIC BOSTROM AS TEAM-MATE NEXT YEAR...
I don't know Eric too well, but I feel that we are very similar: both easy-going and pretty normal guys. Although we raced together a couple of times in World Superbike, I never got the chance to battle on the track with him, but now I will, even though he's my team-mate! I'm sure we will work well together in the Parts Unlimited Ducati Austin team and can help each other to get the best possible results.
WHAT'S THE OPPOSITION GOING TO BE LIKE? YOU KNOW SOME OF THESE AMA GUYS?
I've raced against all of them some time in my career and I know how talented they are. There are probably 4 or 5 very good riders. Even though the depth of field isn't too great, to beat the top 4 or 5 is as hard as anything.
IN A WAY YOU'RE A BIT LIKE ANOTHER BRITISH CHAMPION, NIGEL MANSELL, WHO WENT TO THE USA TO DO INDYCAR AFTER WINNING IN FORMULA 1...
Exactly, I'm looking forward to the rivalries as well. To me that's part of the sport, part of the racing. If everything is rosy and everyone says nice things, that's OK but you need the rivalry, the 'needle', the 'You hate me ... great, I'm gonna beat you, bring it on' sort of thing. I enjoy all that intensity.
ARE YOU GOING TO BE BASED IN THE STATES OR COMMUTE BACK AND FORTH?
In the next couple of weeks I'm going to make a decision on that. It might be easier to base myself there.
FOR DUCATI IN GENERAL AND DUCATI NORTH AMERICA, THE AMA CHAMPIONSHIP IS VERY IMPORTANT. THERE'S GOING TO BE A LOT OF FOCUS ON YOU AND YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A HIGH PROFILE OVER THERE.
That's probably why it's better to live there. If I'm constantly rushing back home, then that's not good for Ducati and I understand that aspect, the PR side of things, I know the way Ducati work, I've worked with them before.
WHAT WAS THE WORST THING ABOUT YOUR MOTOGP YEAR?
Not being what I thought it would be. I thought the package I would have was more competitive and it wasn't. It's just that realization. It's all ifs, buts and maybes... and now I'm moving on. I've no bitter feelings about it, but now it's important to come back and do something else.
WHERE DOES NEIL HODGSON SEE HIS FUTURE FROM HERE?
A year in AMA and we'll see how it goes. If I can win in AMA I'll be the happiest man in the world. Then I'll have a rethink. I'm at a bit of a crossroads but I can't really predict what will happen after. Even last year was a crossroads, but I've always fancied America and now it's the right timing for me. We'll see how it goes. If you win you can pick and choose to stay or move on, it's as simple as that. The AMA Championship poses a great challenge both to me personally and to Ducati as they haven't won it for many years. I would like to make history and be the first rider ever to win the British and World Superbike Championships and the AMA Championship. The main thing that I have discovered this year is that I cannot race just to make up the numbers. I need to win!
Neil Hodgson's first appearance for the Parts Unlimited Ducati Austin AMA Superbike team is scheduled for January 3-5, 2005 in testing at the legendary Daytona circuit in Florida.