Hodgson's style show fails to stop Bostrom

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The Independent Online

With the grid clearing, Carl Fogarty crouched down beside the bike of his close neighbour and former Ducati team-mate Neil Hodgson to offer some last-minute words of comfort. He could almost have been formally relinquishing his grip on the massed affection of the Brands Hatch support.

The GSE Racing rider has recently shown signs that he could one-day emulate the feats of the former four-times world champion. In the short-term, his stylish riding has provided the 85,000 spectators at the showpiece event of the World Superbikes championship with a deserving object for their affections.

Hodgson was unable to live with the pace set by American Ben Bostrom, who stretched his winning streak to five races. However the British rider's impressive recent run of results has served notice that he is ready to launch his own realistic championship challenge.

Having stepped up from the domestic championship last season, Hodgson's privately funded team have been using year-old bikes provided by the Ducati factory, compared to Bostrom's state-of-the-art machinery. So the very fact that Bostrom was made to work every inch of the way around the Kent circuit for his success will be noted when Hodgson's machinery for next season is decided.

In the meantime, Bostrom is proving to be mechanical in his excellence. Having started his victorious sequence with a win in Misano, followed by a double on home soil, he became the first rider since Fogarty in 1993 to make it five out of five.

"My bike felt awesome and it's incredible that I have been racing with Neil in the last five races. Right now, Hodgson is the man to beat. And I honestly felt guilty that I had ruined his day," said the amiable Californian, whose lingering kiss with his model girlfriend on the grid appeared enough to fire any man's enthusiasm.

His victory margin in both races proved ultimately conclusive. However, throughout the race, neither battle was a foregone conclusion. When the first race was stopped, as the result of a spectacular crash featuring James Haydon and Robert Ulm (who both started the afternoon race), Hodgson was lying in third place behind Colin Edwards and Bostrom.

The British rider used the break before the restart to change a tyre that had not been delivering the same effective grip as earlier in the weekend. The replacement allowed him to take an early lead in the second half of the race and hang on, although Bostrom retained his 1.6 second advantage to claim the aggregate win.

Hodgson appeared in control of the second race, although Bostrom was always menacing. When Hodgson's engine developed a water leak, the resulting slight loss of power was enough to allow the L&M Ducati rider through for a lead that was never truly challenged. More challenged was Hodgson's choice of underwear, a Union Jack pair of boxer shorts, displayed when he hurled his leathers into an appreciative crowd.

"The plan was to win the race and then take my leathers off, but I still wanted to say 'thank you' as I felt like I have let everyone down. I'm sick of the sight of Ben's backside now. We will have to sort out a deal to share some of the wins.

"But I threw everything I had at the second race. With six laps to go, water started to appear on my visor and I knew that the bike was leaking water. The temperature of the engine shot up and I had no choice but to back off. It was just one of those things, but at the time I could have cried. I really wanted to win a race to show my appreciation for the unbelievable following that I have had," said Hodgson.

His young team-mate James Toseland reinforced the promise of his potential with a sixth place in the second race although a mistake on the final lap of the first race robbed him of doubling up on his best result of the season. With the championship leader, Troy Bayliss, swapping places with his nearest rival Colin Edwards and retaining his 53 points lead with three rounds remaining, ultimate victory appears assured for the Australian.

In the supporting World Supersport race, British rider James Whitham finished in third, one hundredth of a second behind the winner, Jorg Teuchert, in a thrilling finish.


WORLD SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIPS (Brands Hatch) First race: 1 B Bostrom (US) Ducati, 36min 41.759sec; 2 N Hodgson (GB) Ducati, 36:43.267; 3 C Edwards (US) Castrol Honda, 36:50.961; 4 P Chilia (It) Suzuki, 36:51.775; 5 T Bayliss (Aus) Ducati, 36:56.393; 6 R Xaus (Sp) Ducati, 37:03.641; 7 S Chambon (Fr) Sucuki, 37:06.005; 8 T Corser (Aus) Aprilla, 37:06,995; 9 S Emmett (GB) Ducati, 37:07.569; 10 A Yanagawa (Japan) Kawasaki, 37:08.311. Second race: 1 Bostrom 36:28.522; 2 Hodgson 36:31.103; 3 Bayliss 36:39.429; 4 Chilia 36:39.464; 5 Edwards 36:40.007; 6 J Toseland (GB) Ducati, 36:45.756; 7 J Reynolds (GB) Ducati, 36:45.758; 8 Yanagawa 36:52.442; 9 Chambon 36:52.691; 10 Emmett 36:57.854.

OVERALL STANDINGS: 1 Bayliss 303pts; Edwards 250; 3 Bostrom 247; 4 Corser 226; 5 Hodgson 217; 6 Chili 179; 7 Yanagawa 132; 8 G Lavilla (Sp) Kawasaki 122; 9 T Okada (Japan) Castrol Honda 118; 10 Xaus 106.

MANUFACTURERS STANDINGS: 1 Ducati 413pts; 2 Honda 302; 3 Aprilla 253; 4 Kawasaki 230; 5 Suzuki 195; 6 Yamaha 25; 7 Benelli 4.