Ruben Xaus twice showed Fila Ducati team-mate and newly-crowned World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson the way around Imola to record back-to-back victories on Sunday.

Ruben Xaus twice showed Fila Ducati team-mate and newly-crowned World Superbike champion Neil Hodgson the way around Imola to record back-to-back victories on Sunday.

The first heat provided the most action… The lanky Spaniard and Hodgson spent virtually the entire 21-lap race nose to tail in a dice that reminded many fans of last year’s title showdown.

Xaus made a good start from pole position and Hodgson charged past Regis Laconi into second place on lap one. The two red Ducatis soon pulled out a comfortable gap over Laconi, who in turn was well clear of the scrap for fourth place.

Xaus was spectacular in the first 10 laps and appeared to have broken the Englishman’s challenge, but the Spaniard took one slide too many entering the Tamburello chicane on lap 12 and allowed Hodgson to nip inside for the start of what would be a titanic second half of the race.

On lap 16 Xaus reclaimed the lead at the second chicane only to have Hodgson barge past just one turn later at Tosa. But Xaus returned the favour one quarter of a lap later as the two dived into the Variante Alta chicane and Hodgson had to give way.

Traffic began to become a factor on lap 18 and Hodgson passed Xaus on the inside at the Rivazza complex on lap 20. But Xaus wasn’t done yet and challenged Hodgson as the two piled into the Villeneuve chicane for the final time, taking the lead and moving into the best position possible to deal with the two slower riders that were being hauled in by the leading duo.

With the large Italian crowd cheering wildly, four bikes hurtled under the bridge on the run down to Rivazza almost as one with Xaus furiously weaving from one side to another as the helpless Horst Saiger and Giuseppe Zannini tried to figure out what was happening. Xaus had cleared both by the time he arrived at Rivazza but Hodgson, knowing that one delay would be enough to lose him the race, had no choice but follow his team-mate through.

It all became academic one turn later when Hodgson ran wide on the exit to the second Rivazza and Xaus crossed the line with a wholly unrepresentative 2,793 seconds margin of victory.

Behind the factory duo, Laconi finished less than 10 seconds behind Xaus and more than 20 seconds clear of the next rider, Suzuki’s Gregorio Lavilla. Veteran Frankie Chili had a disastrous start to the day when he stalled his Team PSG-1 Ducati on the startline, forcing the Italian to start from the pitlane, some 10 seconds after the rest of the field.

But Chili put on a thrilling display; 27th at the end of lap one, he was 17th by lap four, in the points on lap five, eleventh by lap eight before dispatching Ivan Clementi, Marco Borciani, Troy Corser and then, on the final lap, Steve Martin to finish in fifth place.

In the second race of the day, Xaus stalked Hodgson relentlessly until lap 19 of 21 and then forced the champion into a penultimate lap mistake.

Xaus made his move heading into the Tamburello chicane three laps from the end. As the lanky Spaniard tried to push away from Hodgson, the Englishman suffered a major twitch entering Tosa for the penultimate time and went straight through the gravel trap and down the escape road. With no damage to his bike though, Hodgson was able to return to action, albeit almost half a minute down on the leader.

Xaus' sixth win from the last 10 races further enhanced his chances of a factory ride with Ducati next year, while Laconi's second place effort put him in pole position to secure third place in the overall driver's standings.

The Frenchman had to give best to HM Plant's James Toseland, his main rival for third position in the points table, until the young Brit crashed heavily at Tamburello on lap 16.

Moving up to the final step on the podium thanks to the misfortunes of Hodgson and Toseland was Lavilla, salvaging a decent result from a troublesome weekend around the bumpy Imola circuit, while Hodgson recovered to fourth, passing Chris Walker on the last lap.

Sixth, almost a full minute behind Xaus, was Italian Lucio Pedercini who just held off Corser with Mauro Sanchini, Juan Borja and David Garcia rounding out the top ten.

Original article from Car