Words: Bertie Simmonds Photographs: Mortons Archive/Mark Wernham
Two decades ago, Neil Hodgson became the UK’s second World Superbike Champion.
A former schoolboy moto-crosser, Neil never described himself as ‘a natural’ on two wheels, but nevertheless by the time he was 13 he was winning everything there was to win, until a big accident saw him break his tibia and fibula aged just 14.
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Dad Mark got Neil on a Yamaha TZR125 and he started tarmac racing – on the proviso he didn’t ride on the road. He soon made an impression and – aged 18 – became the British 125cc champion on a Honda RS125. Under the guidance of Roger Burnett, Neil went into GP racing and back then was the youngest rider on the grid. He would take a best finish in 1993 of 10th at his home Grand Prix.
With his height proving an issue for him on the 125cc machine, in 1995 he went into the 500cc class as a privateer on a ROC Yamaha YZR500 and his performances saw him use one of Kenny Roberts’ factory machines, which he put on the front row.
Sadly a 500cc career was not to be: instead he went to World Superbikes to replace Carl Fogarty at Ducati. Two tough years yielded a best of just one 3rd at Laguna Seca. A move to the out-gunned Kawasaki factory ZX-7R for 1998 saw a best of 4th in Italy, but – by the end of the season – it looked like Neil’s international career was over.
But, the Burnley Bullet bit back. For 1999 he went to GSE Racing on a Ducati, winning the first and last races of the British Superbike season taking 4th overall behind team-mate and champ Troy Bayliss. The 2000 season was all about redemption: winning the BSB title in a thrilling finale with Chris Walker on his Suzuki GSX-R750, which included an amazing back-to-front win after he stalled his Ducati at Oulton Park. The real marker being two wild-card appearances at the UK WSB round which gave him a 3rd and a win at Donington Park and another win later that year at Brands.
His second coming in World Superbike came with his GSE team and 2001 and 2002 saw another win and many more podiums on second-tier Ducati equipment, often behind champs Bayliss and Colin Edwards. With these two off to MotoGP, Hodgson was elevated to the FILA Ducati factory team aboard the new 999. He would take 13 wins on the way to the championship. Classic Racer will be profiling the career of Neil soon.