Works Ducati rider Neil Hodgson got off to a cracking start to the 2003 World Superbike series by winning both race one and two in flying form in Valencia on Sunday.

Works Ducati rider Neil Hodgson got off to a cracking start to the 2003 World Superbike series by winning both race one and two in flying form at Valencia on Sunday.

Let’s hope it’s not going to be a walkover run to the world championship since what the public really wants to see is competition, not domination.

After leading race one for a few laps, James Toesland, riding last year’s Ducati, was forced to ease off to save his tyres, and let both Hodgson and his team-mate Ruben Xaus through. James’ own team-mate, Chris Walker, also got past him. The 1996 world champion, Troy Corser, who took a break last year, is now on a brand new Foggy Petronas FP1 bike, with a 900 cc three cylinder engine as opposed to the 999 cc of the Ducati. The rules now allow for a 1 000 cc four cylinder machine to enter, but with a 32,5 mm air restrictor cutting back on air flow and therefore power output.

Corser went out on lap 11 after going wide and ditching the green machine in the gravel. Another notable retirement was popular Franki Chili, on a yellow Corona sponsored customer Ducati, who had mechanical problems. Franki is 38 years old but loves his bike racing so much that it is difficult to imagine Superbikes without him. The first non-Ducati home was Gregoria Lavilla on a Suzuki while the second Foggy FP1 ridden by James Haydon came home in 12th place.

In race two, things went better for Corser, but he only managed a seventh place. Up front, Hodgson made a clean break and was never in danger of being challenged. Xaus came in second once again and James Toesland beat his team-mate Walker into third spot.

Hodgson also set a new lap record of 1:35.007 in the process. This was Hodgson’s first ever double win, his first wins outside the UK rounds, and give him a career total of five SBK wins thus far.

“There was a lot of wind out there today which made the races a bit more physical because you are leaning forward and using the back brake a lot to keep the front wheel down, which was quite scary,” Hodgson said.

“The early stages of race one were quite an experience because you have to get used to the start again after six months of no racing. I was just looking at what everyone else was doing and then made my move.

“Fastest in every practice session, pole, lap record, double win on my worst track so I’m so pleased with everything. I made one mistake in race two, when I was braking into the first corner with a back-marker on the inside. He moved to the outside and nearly pushed me off the track so I was screaming in my helmet, thinking it was all over.”

Chili had to come in for a stop-go penalty and lost a good sixth place. He then made another mistake and broke the speed limit in the pit lane and had to come in again. By this time he was so disgruntled that he pulled out of the race.

Final results for race one:

1 Neil Hodgson Ducati 999

2 Ruben Xaus Ducati 999

3 Chris Walker Ducati

4 James Toesland Ducati

5 Regis Laconi Ducati

6 Steve Martin Ducati

7 Gregorio Lavilla Suzuki GSX1000R

Final Results for race two:

1 Hodgson

2 Xaus

3 Toesland

4 Walker

5 Martin

6 Lavilla

7 Troy Corser Froggy Petronas.