Hodgson's choice earns rich reward

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The Independent Online

Neil Hodgson has enough experience of giddy fluctuations of fortune to appreciate a timely upswing, and the 26-year-old Lancastrian fully filled the gaping void in local affections left here by the temporary loss to injury of the World Superbike ringmaster Carl Fogarty.

Clearly tired with the role of spear carrier, the British wildcard rider yesterday made a concerted push for another stab at a leading role in the global series with a spellbinding win in the second race and a sterling third place in the first.

His surge to victory on the final lap capped a cliff-hanger of a tussle with another British championship rider, Chris Walker. From a place on the grid's front row, Hodgson propelled the vivid orange Ducati 996 he now rides in the domestic series past a clutch of his WSB supposed elders and betters into the smouldering tracks of Honda's Colin Edwards and the Suzuki-mounted Pier-Francesco Chili. After Edwards, the winner of the first race, rode into a gravel trap on the 10th lap a momentous tit-for-tat confrontation between the two leading British riders appeared to be deciding second and third places.

Yet suddenly, as the race rushed headlong to its climax in a flurry of elbows and banging fairings as Hodgson and Walker muscled for rank, Chili's pace faltered. Hodgson, urged on to victory by 75,000 baying souls, seized the moment and catapulted his machine past the Italian to snatch the chequered flag with Walker in his slipstream. Cue bedlam as the fervent crowd acclaimed to the clear blue heavens above a wholly unexpected Union Jack one and two on the podium.

Hodgson, infuriatingly inconsistent during his two seasons with works Ducati and Kawasaki teams, could hardly contain himself afterwards. "That was incredible," he beamed. "It was the best day ever in my racing career."

It was also the first time a British wildcard rider since Fogarty in 1992 had stumped the WSB hot shots to secure a win on home soil.

With Fogarty reduced to a modest lap of the broiling Derbyshire circuit in an open-topped car as he recovers from an injury that has scuppered his campaign for a record fifth world title, it was hugely encouraging to see the determined Walker capture a place on the podium too. The 28-year-old rider could not have pressed Hodgson any harder had he got off and pushed his Suzuki.

Hodgson's confidence had been increased tenfold by his third place in the earlier rubber. With Edwards and Chili increasing their winning margin by the lap, Hodgson clung resolutely to his position. If the "Texas Tornado", as Edwards is known, took the honours, there was little doubt that Hodgson, the "Tangerine Thunderbolt", had made significant headway.

Judging from the response of yesterday's gargantuan crowd to the fair-haired rider's achievements, WSB is crying out for a British contender to inherit Foggy's all-conquering mantle. The man himself insisted yesterday he is eager to return to the fray, probably at the Brands Hatch round in August. Barring mishap, Hodgson will be there too.

In Le Mans, the reigning world champion Alex Criville won the French 500cc Grand Prix after overtaking Japan's Norick Abe on the final lap. The American Kenny Roberts held on to the world championship lead after finishing sixth.