MotoGP: Q&A with BT Sport pundit Neil Hodgson

Neil Hodgson at the 2019 German GP
Neil Hodgson at the 2019 German GP

With the 2020 MotoGP season on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, BT Sport's Neil Hodgson and Gavin Emmett are bringing racing back to our screens with their new show, The Greatest Race. 

Each Sunday fans will be shown four great races in full, with Hodgson and Emmett interviewing the riders involved, both past and present, over video call. At the end of each show, fans will be able to vote on Twitter for their favourite. The winner then qualifies for the grand finale, where the greatest race will be revealed. 

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MCN caught up with Hodgson to learn more about the show and to find out which MotoGP race he believes is the greatest.

The first episode of The Greatest Race aired at the weekend. How do you feel it went, and was it a little strange presenting over video call? 

What was really nice is that it was a Sunday and bikes were on the TV! I think we’re all so used to watching bikes on a Sunday. When I’m not working, I’ll be watching BSB or World Superbikes and obviously people watch MotoGP, so that’s just where it belongs. We need to watch motorcycles racing! That was the inspiration behind it. Although there are no new races coming, if you look in the archives, we’ve got some absolute classics!

It felt a bit strange, but do you know what, it was great to watch the quality of the races and then for Gavin to then be able to actually interview the riders and get their opinions and thoughts. This weekend Gavin will be talking to Valentino Rossi! It doesn’t really get any better than that. Gav will be at home, in his attic, talking to Rossi. I would watch that alone – just that one interview!

You had four races based on Valentino Rossi in the first episode. It must have been hard to pick just four races...

It really was! So much so that the battle with Casey Stoner at Laguna Seca has been carried over to this weekend’s episode. What do you pick out as the standout moment of a career like he’s had? We picked some of the classic last lap ones because they’re always great. Everyone loves some last lap, last corner argy bargy.

The Sete Gibernau one at Jerez was fantastic. I love the fact that all these years later, Sete hasn’t gotten over it! I really like Sete, he’s a really nice lad but I like him even more because of his honesty! He could have lied and said, ‘Oh yeah, that was then and now me and Valentino are friends’, but he was like, ‘Nah, me and Valentino aren’t friends,’ brilliant!

I bet you were quite nervous about what Max Biaggi might say about Rossi then?

You never know what Max Biaggi is going to say! I didn’t really listen to a word he said because I was just mesmerised by his Van Gough wallpaper. Only Max could pull that off. The beauty of live TV being streamed from people's houses!

It was interesting to see that the once fierce rivalry has now turned into respect…

Yes, massive respect. I think that was helped by Max leaving the paddock, going to World Superbikes and winning a few titles there as well. It’s been hard for Max Biaggi because he was always the fastest Italian and he was Mr Cool, and then Rossi turned up. Obviously, Max had an amazing career, but Rossi just cast a shadow over him. I would cut my right arm off to have Max Biaggi’s career though… stunning.

The fans are voting now for the winner of that episode, but which race would you name as the winner?

Well, that’s a really tricky one to answer because there were bits of all of the races that I really enjoyed. I think the fact that even though Welkom was a good race, you can’t say it was the greatest race, even though it was Rossi’s first win on the Yamaha. I know how hard that was for him and what he had been through. He just rode out of his skin, but the show is called The Greatest Race, so it just has to be down to the race hasn’t it really.

I would have to say the Catalunya race. I love the beauty and the story of the race. Who’s stalking? Who’s leading? Who’s controlling? Who’s sandbagging? The build-up to the big crescendo of the last three laps. The pins have been pulled and everyone is just going for it. That’s what I love and that race, for me, had everything.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s show, it’s a real mix. You have Laguna Seca 2008 and Austria 2017, which are both about two riders battling tooth and nail. Then, there’s Phillip Island 2017 and Assen 2018, which are multi-rider classics….

Yeah and that was the idea, to try and mix it up a little bit! We’ve got so many more coming. So many amazing races. Some that will have you in bloody tears. We call them the wildcard races. They’re not your usual suspects. There are a few one-off races. For everyone sat at home on a Sunday, they will not be disappointed.

Also, the fact we’ve got the live interviews around it as well, its brilliant. I think the fact that Gav is doing these from his attic, it just makes me laugh. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he would be interviewing Valentino Rossi from his attic. 

What can fans expect in terms of other riders popping up in the coming weeks?

I think we’re going to do a bit of a Lorenzo weekend and a Marquez weekend. Maybe a Dovizioso weekend too, but I’m not too sure. The wildcard weekend is the best one I think because there are going to be some forgotten races that you just don’t expect! It’s really, really good. 

If it was down to you to name the greatest race, which one would you pick?

Off the top of my head, it would have to be the Laguna Seca race that we are going to see this weekend. The reason is that I was there, in the AMA support races, and I saw it all. It was one of those where before the race had started, if somebody said to me ‘£10,000, bet on who will win’, it was an absolute no brainer - Stoner will win this race and he’ll do it by about 10 seconds.

Rossi just controlled him and was just off the scale. Valentino Rossi should not have won that race. There was absolutely no way. It was impossible. He was at such a disadvantage with everything. Top speed, acceleration, and out and out lap times. Somehow, he got in Stoner’s head and just destroyed him. It was just amazing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

When Stoner eventually went down, I thought oh my god, he has crashed! It was bizarre! Rossi just conjured up the old magic, like only he could, and bloody had him! There were so many mind games going on in that one race alone, so it’s just pretty special.

Watch The Greatest Race live every Sunday at 10am on BT Sport 1, as Neil Hodgson and Gavin Emmett continue their quest to find the greatest MotoGP race of all time.

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Josh Close

By Josh Close

Sports Reporter and fan of all things motorsport.