Ducati delights Hodgson in first test run

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Britain's leading motorcyclist met the world's fastest motorcycle here yesterday and declared: "It's so smooth! I'm just looking forward to making it feel like my own."

Neil Hodgson, the world superbike champion, made his debut on Ducati's 207mph MotoGP bike in a test session. Wearing all-black leathers to match the all-black bike, Hodgson completed around 20 laps in sunny but chilly conditions on the Ricardo Tormo circuit.

"The power delivery is so progressive," he said. "The brakes are difficult to get used to because they're carbon fibre rather than the steel ones on my superbike. It doesn't feel like my bike yet, but I'm looking forward to doing more laps and getting settled into it. If I can achieve that by the end of this week, I'll be very happy."

Hodgson, 30, has switched to the premier MotoGP class for prototype motorcycles only three months after clinching the World Superbike title for showroom-based models in the Netherlands.

The Italian Ducati company has placed him in a new satellite team run by the Spaniard Luis d'Antin, a former grand prix rider.

"I am really honoured to have the World Superbike champion in my team," D'Antin said. "I believe that we can aim for a place in the top five of the championship by the end of the 2004 season."

D'Antin has also recruited Hodgson's team-mate from the 2003 Superbike championship, the Spanish rider Ruben Xaus, who finished as runner-up to the Briton. But D'Antin said: "Just because Xaus is a Spaniard in a Spanish team, he will not get preferential treatment. We are an international organisation, and English is our working language. Both riders will get the same opportunities."

But he warned: "If one rider builds a significant points advantage over the other, obviously he will take preference in our decisions."

Hodgson will start his attack on the MotoGP series at the first round in South Africa on 18 April. The D'Antin team is organising 14 days of tests in Australia, Malaysia and Europe to allow Hodgson and Xaus to familiarise themselves with the 990cc V4-cylinder bikes.

The British Superbike champion, Shane Byrne, who has also graduated to the MotoGP series, had his second test session on his three-cylinder Aprilia here.

"The track's really slippery, so we can't push too hard," he said. "But it's good to get laps in so that I can get used to the bike."

Yesterday was the first day of a three-day multi-teams testing session which also included Proton's Kurtis Roberts and Nobu Aoki, Telefonica MoviStar Honda's Colin Edwards and Sete Gibernau, Camel Pramac Pons' Max Biaggi and Pramac Honda's Shinichi Itoh, testing tires for Bridgestone. Ducati featured Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss.

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