FONTANA, CA, FEB. 4: The grin on Neil Hodgson’s face got wider the more he thought about what he’d just done. For the first time in more than five years the Isle of Man resident finished a Superbike test with the fastest time. The last time he was fastest? “That’s a very, very good question,” he said. “I’ll tell you when it was, way too long ago, way too long ago. It’d be 2003 [the year he won the World Superbike Championship] - some test there.” Hodgson turned in his and the test's single fastest lap amid the most consistent run of any of the Superbike contenders over the course of the three-day test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The lap was a hand-timed 1:23.9, which was nearly a second better than the 1:24.854 he turned in the first race of the 2008 Fontana doubleheader weekend. The fastest race lap of the 2008 weekend, a 1:23.439 in race one, was clocked by Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Mat Mladin. Mladin didn’t put his usual effort into the Fontana test, running only one lap at speed yesterday, the second day of testing for the Yoshimura team, before returning to his home in Australia (Suzuki tested Monday and Tuesday, the others Tuesday and Wednesday). Hodgson is smart enough to know that if Mladin took it more seriously, the outcome would’ve been different. “I know Mat [Mladin] didn’t do a lot of laps and if Mat had done a lot of laps he’d have definitely been a lot faster than he was,” Hodgson admitted. But what Hodgson took away from the test was that his pace was much closer than last year’s. “I’m not a second off the pace, I’m not 1.8 seconds off the pace and riding the wheels off the bike, which we have been in the past. You go home after those tests and you think, 'Well, yeah, I can find two-tenths in me, but where am I going to find the 1.5?' “I was tired last night and I were a bit stressed, so I decided-I have not had a beer all year - so I had a Corona last night. Seriously, I had a bottle of Corona - got to get the sponsors in - just seemed to help me sleep and came here in a good frame of mind. I’m really happy. It’s nice to be happy riding, because normally I’m so f---ing miserable, because it’s so frustrating.” Hodgson’s best lap came on a fresh Dunlop during a string of low 24s, a pace no one else could match on Wednesday, but which Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Tommy Hayden nearly matched on Tuesday. The Hodgson run began with a 1:24.2, then a 24.1, then the 23.9. “I went out on a new tire at the end; we run a softer one pretty much the whole time. I did a few 24.5s in like a 12-lap run and then we made some changes and the bike felt better so I said 'let’s try it with some fresh rubber and see how much better it is.' ” In his own words, he thought the run was both “impressive” and “really strange.” He said “couldn’t do a 24 last year if you paid me to, well, Honda was doing that and I couldn’t even do one.” Now the team will return to the shop to begin preparing for Daytona, where Hodgson was also the fastest rider during the December test, but without the yardstick of the Rockstar Makita Suzukis. What the team needs to do is take “what we’ve learned from this test and just make a good plan for Daytona, really. We had a good test there and maybe some of the little things we learned here will show there. the problem is you get on the bike at Daytona and everything feels so different again, because it’s Daytona. Yeah, it’s good to be in this position.”

World Superbike Headlines

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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