Monday, January 08, 2007

WSBK: 2007 Hopes Fading for Neil Hodgson

It is looking increasingly likely that Neil Hodgson will sit out the 2007 season, as his hopes of finding a World Superbike ride are fading.
The former WSBK champion has spent the last two years racing in the United States, in the AMA Superbike category. The team had very limited success, largely due to the technical rules imposed by the AMA. While the traditionally Ducati-friendly World Superbike Championship allows teams running twin cylinder bikes to change many of the engine's internal components, which allows them to remain competitive with the 4-cylinder bikes, the AMA forces twin cylinder manufacturers to stay closer to road bike specifications.
With Ducati now pulling out of AMA Superbike altogether, Hodgson had hoped for a return to the factory Ducati team in WSBK. However, Ducati Corse re-signed the off-form Lorenzo Lanzi. Hodgson has claimed that the Ducati team leader, reigning WSBK champion Troy Bayliss, refused to have the Englishman as a team-mate. While this may be true, Bayliss is not the team manager, so the refusal to sign Hodgson must be considered a Ducati team decision.
The rumours of a link-up between Hodgson and Carl Fogarty have been renewed recently, with claims that Foggy will run new MV Agusta bikes in WSBK. While Hodgson's manager Roger Burnett has pointed out that Foggy is rich enough to buy bikes and pay Hodgson from his own pocket, without a title sponsor, this is extremely unlikely.
There is an old saying in Formula One, "It's easy to make a small fortune in this sport. Just start with a large fortune and work your way down."
This maxim also applies to sports that involve overtaking. While Foggy is a millionaire, he would be incredibly unlikely to spend millions of dollars per year running a race team as a rich man's plaything. Foggy's constant stream of books and DVD's show that he wants to increase his wealth, not decrease it. Brand new MV Agusta bikes will surely take at least a year to become competitive, so Fogarty is unlikely to spend his own money hiring Hodgson with little hope of race wins.
Burnett has been around motorcycle racing for a very long time, has run race teams and knows that his best option is to keep generating publicity in the hope that a sponsor will appear.
As a former World Champion, Hodgson has a proven track record. He is also a friendly, honest and talkative rider who spends many hours signing autographs for his fans. He should be a sponsor's dream, but sponsorship is increasingly hard to find, especially with the near-extinction of tobacco money. If the factory Yamaha team in MotoGP, with their superstar Valentino Rossi, are struggling to find a title sponsor, then what hope for Foggy and Hodgson?
There are a lot of big fish in the WSBK pond. Too many for Hodgson to find a top ride for 2007. He may have a better chance in 2008, when Toseland hopes to leave for MotoGP. Bad seasons for veteran stars such as Corser and Biaggi might see one or both of them retiring altogether at the end of 2007. Hodgson will at least have more time to convince a team to sign him for 2008. A year of TV work might actually be better than a poor year riding mediocre machinery.
There is very little time left. The WSBK season starts in Qatar on Saturday 24th February. We haven't seen the last of Neil Hodgson, but we might not see him on a motorcycle until next year.

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