Hodgson leaves Edwards trailing

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The Independent Online

Neil Hodgson set the pace in the first qualifying session here yesterday in an attempt to build on an impressive start to the World Superbike Championship season.

The Ducati rider lapped the Italian circuit in one minute 48.282 seconds to comfortably top the time sheets ahead of his Honda rival, Colin Edwards.

A fine display last time out in Sugo, Japan saw the Burnley-born rider leap into third place in the drivers' championship. With a year-old bike, Hodgson was not expected to set the pace this weekend – but Edwards and the world champion Troy Bayliss were left floundering.

Bayliss – already a six-time winner this season – was almost a full second adrift of Hodgson while the Ducati rider Ben Bostrom completes the provisional front row. Hodgson's team-mate James Toseland, from Sheffield, was also in impressive form, clocking the sixth fastest time of the day, one place ahead of Chris Walker on a Kawasaki.

The first session had started slowly with torrential rain but with the track drying in the second session Hodgson returned to break the lap record. "I'm really pleased to be in such as strong position just in case the weather doesn't hold out," he said."The most encouraging thing about my time is that it was clocked on a race tyre.

"I didn't get within a second of that on a qualifier because I got caught up in traffic. This circuit rewards riders who have total confidence in their machinery and can keep it smooth through the chicanes and high-speed corners.

"That suits me because I really feel in tune with the Ducati. My tyres are performing fantastically well and we've got some really good settings worked out."

Toseland was happy with his sixth spot, claiming he could not have expected any higher. "I've learned a lot from studying Neil's set-up and once I had the bike as I wanted it," he said.