Hodgson risks short cut to keep leaders in sight

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The Independent Online

The world superbike champion, Neil Hodgson, will take a risky short cut when he qualifies for the Brazilian round of the MotoGP series in Rio de Janeiro today.

The world superbike champion, Neil Hodgson, will take a risky short cut when he qualifies for the Brazilian round of the MotoGP series in Rio de Janeiro today.

The 30-year-old Briton will use the radical chassis set-up that gave him his first top 10 finish of the year in Holland last week. The new settings require a shorter wheelbase on his Ducati Desmosedici, which enables the 1000cc V4 machine to turn into corners faster. The downside for Hodgson is he will get very little warning of a slide - and that's an unnerving thought on a motorcycle with a top speed of around 215mph.

"The shorter bike gives more grip but less feeling," Roger Burnett, Hodgson's manager, explained yesterday. "If the rear tyre lets go, Neil will have very little time to do anything about it. But this is the only way to go, if we want the grip and better lap times."

Hodgson started last week's race from 20th place, on the seventh row of the grid, after a disastrous qualifying session. But he fought heroically to 10th place, passing factory riders Norick Abe (Yamaha), Alex Hofmann (Kawasaki) and John Hopkins (Suzuki).

His team-mate, the Spaniard Ruben Xaus, performed even better, finishing seventh using similar settings to Hodgson. It was an outstanding result for the privately-owned d'Antin team, based in Madrid, which is leasing 2003 bikes from the Marlboro Ducati factory squad.

"That was my first proper race of the season," Hodgson said. "I felt comfortable with everything - the bike, the tyres, the lot. We've only done six of the 16 races, so now I'm hoping for better results in the rest of the year."

It's a reflection on the bizarre minds of motorcycle racers when Hodgson can claim to be "comfortable" on a machine that could, at any moment, spit him down the track at up to 300 feet per second.

But the pace of development in MotoGP this year is frantic, with Yamaha's Valentino Rossi trying to steal the championship from Honda.

In an effort to keep up, Hodgson and Xaus are recording faster lap times than when their second-hand bikes were the official Ducati machines in 2003. But they are still not going fast enough, which explains the need for the shorter bikes - shorter by just 10mm, or little more than the length of your fingernail. But that is how hair-sensitive a MotoGP bike is.

Hodgson hopes to record his best-yet MotoGP finish in tomorrow's race. Then he will start to turn his thoughts to his home MotoGP at Donington Park on 25 July.

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