Erion Honda’s Jake Zemke will make his World Superbike debut by replacing John Hopkins on the Stiggy Honda CBR1000RR at this weekend’s fifth round of the championship at the famed Monza circuit outside of Milan.
Zemke was offered the opportunity following the severe hip injury to Hopkins in the previous round in Assen, Holland. Hopkins dislocated the hip in a practice crash and flew back to the U.S. where Dr. Arthur Ting performed surgery. Hopkins is hopeful of returning for his home round at Miller Motorsports Park on the last weekend in May, but Zemke is on deck if he isn’t fit.Now it’s up to Zemke to adapt to a new team, new bike, new tires, and new track in a very short time frame. The last time Zemke rode a Superbike was at the end of September 2007 when he finished fourth in the final round of the AMA Superbike Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Last year he won the Formula Xtreme championship on the Erion Honda CBR600RR. And this year he’s struggling on the Erion Honda in the Daytona SportBike class.”I got an opportunity to go ride the Stiggy bikes and obviously Hopper’s hurt and we wish him a speedy recovery. It’ll be a lot of fun,” Zemke said at Barber Motorsports Park after finishing 28th with grip issues on Sunday. “Obviously, their team’s really good. The results have been excellent so far this season for a first year team out there in the World Superbike: They’re doing really well. So I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. I’ve talked to Stiggy (Johan Stigefelt) himself and it sounds like it’s going to be a good time, so we’re really looking forward to it.”Zemke said he was “pretty sure” he got the blessing of Hopkins to ride his bike. “That helps out a lot too. Like I said, I really got to thank John and also the team for thinking of me. I wish him a speedy recovery, because he’s pretty banged up right now. I hope he heals up good and quickly.”Zemke also had to get permission from team owner Kevin Erion, and his U.S. sponsors, all of whom wished him the best.”Yeah, I also got to thank Kevin Erion and my team and my sponsors for allowing me to do this and putting stuff together for me last minute and making something happen. It was a race I was going to try and do last year, so it’s definitely something exciting when our season hasn’t been going so good over here so far, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”What Zemke knows about the 3.6-mile foot-shaped circuit is that “it’s probably the easiest track in the world to learn. Actually, I think it’s got four turns and three chicanes, so shouldn’t be too bad. I have no illusions going over there. The field over there is super-deep and I think that, obviously, I’m going to be riding with a whole new crew that I’ve never even talked to, new bike, new tires, again, some of the best riders in the world. We’re going for the experience and we’ll go over there and see what happens. You never know till you get there.”The track puts a premium on top speed and stability under heavy braking. “You got some first gear chicanes and sixth gear straightaways. Acceleration and power’s going to play a big part of it, I’m sure. Like I said, from what I’ve seen their bikes are really good. And everybody I’ve talked to said they’ve got just a first class outfit over there.” Zemke’s crew chief John Ethel will be going with him.At the moment, the deal is for Monza only, though, as earlier stated, he may race at Miller Motorsports Park if Hopkins isn’t healthy. Zemke can’t ride at the May 15-17 Kyalami round because of a conflict with the next Daytona SportBike round at Infineon Raceway.”If I get the opportunity to ride at Miller, that all depends on John (Hopkins),” Zemke said. Zemke’s last Superbike win, and the last time a non-Suzuki won an AMA Superbike race, came at MMP in June of 2006. “If John’s ready to go, obviously it’s his ride. If he weren’t ready to go, it’s my understanding, that, yeah, we’ll have an opportunity at Miller as well. That’s why going over to Monza’s real important and it’ll be real good for us. Get to know the team a little bit, the bikes, the tires and then I’m still going there to race, don’t get me wrong, but Miller I definitely look forward to doing that one if I get the opportunity.”