The only rider contracted to American Honda for 2009, Hodgson was left without a ride when the company pulled out of road racing on Friday night. But American Honda wants to place him on whichever satellite team gives him the best chance of winning the 2009 American Superbike title.
“This week we’re going to meet with Kevin (Erion) and Tim (Saunders)” of Corona Honda, American Honda road race boss Ron Heben said, to decide the best option for 2009. “The main focus is how can we give Neil the best support which can give him the best chance to win a championship?”
Erion Honda will campaign 2008 Formula Xtreme champion Jake Zemke and Canadian Chris Peris in the Daytona SportBike class. Corona Honda has Jake Holden in American Superbike and the best out of industry sponsorship and marketing partnership in the paddock. Corona Honda might be a better fit, simply because they race the CBR1000RR, but Erion Honda has raced 1000’s and has been more the successful race team.
“Neil (Hodgson), I think, wants to race 1000’s; I’m almost positive he does,” Heben said. “So if you say, ‘OK, Kevin (Erion), can you absorb this into your program and can you properly do this and do you want to do this? How are we going to make this work?’ And the other is if you said to the Corona team, same situation. And then I think we just have to look at both elements and go, ‘Which makes the most sense and which is going to be the best program to support Neil?’
“ We already have a commitment to support Erion in the 600 class and they obviously have done a great job with that in years past. Corona, even though they’re racing the Superbike and it’ll be a little bit easier this year, their program is a little bit different than the Erion program. So we just have to speak with both of those parties, look at the big picture, then see which of our resources we have in place and how we can properly use that to make the thing work. So when they go to Daytona they have a competitive package.”
American Honda vice president Ray Blank said the company “certainly would love to see (Hodgson) back out there, because he had a pretty good time at the tire test.” Hodgson was the fastest of the three factory Superbike riders, though neither Suzuki nor Kawasaki took part. “What we’re not going to do, though, is to be able to represent ourselves as Team Honda because of the additional expenses involved with that.”
Blank added that no one currently under contract to American Honda was going to lose his job. He said Honda was going “to hold true to all the commitments we made, to all the contracts that we made. We’re not breaking any contracts. We’re not going to say to anybody, ‘Well, we’re just going to leave you out there.’”
Where they end up has yet to be determined. Heben said each team already had the infrastructure to run their race teams. “Until we really sit down in there and say, ‘Do you have a crew chief to support Neil? OK. We have a guy here who can fit that bill and Neil knows him and he’s comfortable with him.’ The good thing is Neil’s comfortable with all the guys he had. Even though there were no rules made, we had a team organization that was set up and established to go racing for next year.
“Neil knows this would be the second year and Neil knows those guys and whether they worked with him last year or worked with Miguel (Duhamel), they’re all quality guys. And I kind of look at it, I’m kind of optimistic that in August next year when these guys are still under contract, that American Honda looks at it and goes ‘Let’s continue to go racing in 2010,’ because you still have a very good group of talented guys that can go forward, either in the same capacity that they’re doing under a different team umbrella or bring it back in house. You don’t know how that’s going to work out.
“The key part is, I would like to see that you wouldn’t have to start up a whole new program. It would be more bringing the band back together. You know what they do and they know how to work together. And you know that they have the experience, that you might have been off for a little bit, but you start back up.”
The bottom line is that Heben wants to “make sure that not only at the first race does Neil have the support to be successful, but at the last race as well. Certainly we have a lot of confidence in our support programs that we have, that they’re going to ensure that Neil gets the support throughout the entire season, because it takes an entire season to win a championship, not just one race.”