Neil Hodgson has been testing the replica of his WSB 996 on the Isle of Man… and getting incredibly high....
Now we’ve added video clips showing his high-flying riding frame-by-frame. Follow the link, right, to see him jumping and to hear what the 996S sounds like with its Termignonis fitted.
He was meant to be on holiday, between WSB rounds. But when bikes are your life they have got to be part of your holiday, too.
We found Hodgson more than ready to head out for a few laps of the Island on the new 996S Hodgson replica. The tall, skinny and now very recognisable GSE Ducati rider exploding with energy and gagging to get going.
The next World Superbike round at Oschersleben in Germany just can’t come soon enough.
" I really understand what Carl (Fogarty) was talking about now when he used to say how gutted he was that he couldn’t win at Brands, " says Hodgson, who netted two second places in front of a 122,000-strong sea of orange. " Until you know you’re really in with a chance, you just don’t realise how much people want you to do well. It’s very humbling, but an amazing feeling all the same. "
A nation’s expectations might have been pressure for the " old " Neil. They are simply extra incentive for the " real " Neil – the " no more Mr Nice Guy " Neil. But was he ever nice? Nice guys are commonly supposed to finish last and he hasn’t been doing much of that recently.
" I have been known to spit the dummy in supermarkets and things, " he admits. " My dad’s got a bit of a temper and obviously being his son I’ve got a bit of that, too. I control it better than him, though – most of the time. "
Hodgson’s fully togged up in his Tango-man leathers. He fires up the Hodgson replica (the last time it was ridden was by him at Oulton Park for an MCN competition winner) and we head out to Creg-ny-Baa. Here, we are following the real Neil on a dead-ringer of his GSE superbike the wrong way round the TT course. It’s all a bit weird.
It doesn’t entirely make sense for him either. " It feels all wrong riding on the road, " he says, plainly thrown by the idea of cars sharing the same Tarmac coming the other way. " I’m really not comfortable doing this, " he says, before nailing it up the hill to Kate’s Cottage, swinging a U-turn and then backing it into the Creg on the brakes and pinning it down to Brandish in a very superbike-meets-the-TT wall of sound.
" It makes the right noise, " he says. " I thought it was a bit flat to start with, but I forgot how hard you can rev these. I’m just not used to giving it some on the road. "
He gets a lot more used to giving it some over the Mountain to Guthrie’s and it’s not long before the crossed-up wheelies out of turns and stoppies at junctions reveal him to be much more relaxed. He looks like he might just about be enjoying himself. On holiday, even.
The sun is out. There might even be birds singing in the trees, but we can’t quite hear them above the Termignoni racket. We " cruise " out past Ginger Hall and on to the Sulby straight. The binmen in the dustcart are throwing confused double-takes at the orange thing behind them in the 40mph limit.
They wave Hodgson on to overtake, but being a responsible resident of Mona’s Isle he waits patiently until he’s out of the limit before banging the 996 off the rev-limiter and letting them eat his sonic boom. He disappears through Quarry Bends and we catch up with him outside Kirkmichael.
The police are waiting. They would like him to autograph two Hodgson replica helmets before they can eliminate him from their enquiries. He borrows a thick black marker from a garage and signs everything but the cop car. He likes it here. And they like him.
" Everyone’s devastated there’s no TT or Manx Grand Prix this year. For those that want to do it, there’s nothing else in the world comes close – and I completely understand that. But it’s just not for me – and other people understand that.
" We always watch it, though. Last year, when I had my old XR2, we were out having a look and then we got into the car and it wouldn’t start in front of all these fans. They were all taking the piss anyway because it was an absolute scrapper with 80,000 on the clock.
His " new " car is a metallic green Escort SE – or something. He’s not quite sure himself. As unassuming, un-top-of-the-range and plain unlikely a car as possible for a man whose profession is the glamorous world of speed and champagne-soaked rostrums.
While his profile soars, he prefers to keep a low one away from the day job.
He’s really getting lairy on " his " 996 now.
The body language is typically motocross and completely relaxed. Those early days spent on a Yamaha YZ80 still show.
" I started crying at my first motocross meeting. I fell off and didn’t get round the first corner, it was a disaster. Then by about 1985 I won my first race. Foggy won the expert class when I was just starting. It took me ages to get into bikes, though. My older brother Carl had a TY80 and I just wasn’t interested at all. I was useless, just fell off all the time. "
" Most of my training last year was out on the CR125 crosser with Steve Hislop and then hopping about on the Montesa trials bike with Dougie Lampkin. But foot and mouth’s put an end to that and I’ve got into bicycles instead.
" I normally do something like Douglas to Ramsey and back. I was out a couple of days ago and there was that much wind on the Mountain, I literally couldn’t get back. I had to get a lift. "
Hodgson can’t entirely switch off the training schedule, but he can afford to knock it back a couple of notches and then turn it up again as the next race approaches. " I’d much prefer the season to just keep going, " he says. " We get big gaps here and there, which is all very well, but why can’t they just keep regular gaps between the races and then we can all finish a month early?
" I’m trying to relax, like I’m allowing myself two gin and tonics this month instead of the one. But there’s still so much left to happen this season that you can’t put it away and forget about it. It’s always there in your mind.
" Like if I finish top-three this year I’ll be pleased. I didn’t ride so good at the first couple of rounds and my engine went at Monza, but it’s the next races that matter. You don’t dwell on what’s already happened, but what’s next is always in your head. "
The sun shines on and there are still days to cross off the kitchen calendar before he shoots for another Superpole on September 1. Hodgson’s got more time on his hands than he’s had for months – but that doesn’t make it a holiday, it doesn’t even make it a day off. Not right now and not in Neil’s big plan for what he measures as success.
" Foggy’s won four titles and he doesn’t have to play any parts any more. He’s done it. When I hang my boots up, I want to hang them up totally. I could buy three Porsches right now – but I don’t because I don’t deserve one yet. I need to have done something before I can allow myself that. "
Read more on this in MCN, on sale on Wednesday, August 15, 2001.