Hodgson makes Ducati debut

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The Independent Online

Neil Hodgson will make his debut today on the world's fastest racing motorcycle, Ducati's 207mph MotoGP challenger.

Britain's leading rider will test the 990cc four-cylinder bike at the Valencia circuit in Spain, in preparation for his assault on the 2004 MotoGP championship. "I'm really looking forward to trying it and assessing how I will have to adjust my riding style to cope with the power and speed," said Hodgson, who will complete three days of rigorous testing on the 2.49-mile circuit, where he opened his 2003 World Superbike campaign with two race wins.

"I've been dreaming about riding the MotoGP bike for the last few nights, which shows that I'm both excited and nervous about it," he said. "I feel like this is the start of the 2004 season. It's great to have the opportunity to try it before the Christmas break."

Hodgson claimed his first world title this year on a 188bhp twin-cylinder Ducati in the superbike championship for showroom-based models. The Italian factory has now rewarded him with a step up to the 230bhp MotoGP model.

Hodgson and the British Superbike champion, Shane Byrne, will face motorcycle racing's greatest names in the 16-round MotoGP series, including the five-times champion, Valentino Rossi, who has thrown the competition open by switching from Honda to Yamaha.

Next year's British motorcycle Grand Prix looks likely to be rescheduled to avoid a clash with the Formula One race at Silverstone if the latter event is confirmed for 11 July. Sources said yesterday that Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One's commercial operation, had negotiated for the date of the motorcycling race to be changed.