After a disastrous two years of poor results and injury, John Hopkins is hoping to inject life back into his racing career and he’s hoping to do it in a return to the AMA Superbike Championship with the M4 Monster Suzuki team. The 26-year-old Californian started the next phase of his racing life during a two-day test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, February 2-3.It didn’t take long for Hopkins to get back to up to speed and he even on the first day he was on the same second as the top men.”I’m quite surprised really,” Hopkins said after his first day on the track. “I’ve had a really strong training regime over the last month and we’ve been pushing it really, really hard. The overall bike skills… you never really lose them too much. I was a little bit rusty getting on it at first. We did the track day here on Saturday, but you can’t push and you don’t know anything about the bike. The place became a bit more bumpier and difficult at speed when you’re closing in on those seconds.”It’s been a good first day, but my wrist has been bothering me a little bit. I rode with it from the beginning of 2007. I broke my scapoid in Qatar leading up to the beginning of the season in ’07 and with the bike being pretty good in’07 with Suzuki, if I got the scaphoid fixed I would have been out for over a quarter of the season so we decided to just ride through it. By the time I got my massive concussion in Germany [at the World Superbike round], five months ago… I’ve been riding with it broken and the bones had separated by over an inch and it was a disaster in my wrist. We decided to try and get it fixed. It’s still bothering me, but it’s just one of those things and riding will make it stronger. I don’t have the full movement and I don’t think I ever will, but the strength is what I’m working on now.”The single track day and the two test days were Hopkins’ first on a GSX-R1000 and he liked what he found with the bike, comparing it favorably against the Stiggy Honda CBR1000RR he rode at the beginning of last year.”To be honest with you, I like it better than what I rode last year on the Honda,” Hopkins said. “It’s a big difference. Sure there are a lot of changes to be made and a lot more stuff to make you go quicker on the World Superbike version, but the overall initial feeling is good. The Honda was way over the front and it chattered a lot. I’ve always carried quite a bit of corner speed when I ride and not be so stop and go, but the Honda was really a stop-and-go machine. On this one I’m able to hold the cornering speed and it’s not chattering. The initial feel is great. We’ve barely changed it all day.”As for riding with the other top AMA Superbike men, Hopkins got his re-introduction right away.”[Josh] Hayes thought it would be pretty funny to spook me in my worst section into turn one,” Hopkins said. “He came in and ducked underneath me going into there. It was good. I followed him and there was no way he was getting away from me, so I felt pretty confident. I caught up to [Ben] Bostrom and rode with him a little bit and was out with [Tommy] Hayden, but he was a ways ahead, but we kept the same distance. I’m pretty close. I got into the 24s today and I know I’ve got a second in me in this turn one, definitely. At that speed with the plastic curbs… but I’ll get it back down.”Overall, Hopper was smiling big all day, happy to have a ride, happy to be racing at home again.”It’s good,” he said. “You go to a test over in Europe and it’s like going to a race weekend. It’s crazy and all the distractions and stuff. Here it’s cool. You can just focus on the job and really focus on riding and testing. I’m just happy to be on a bike again with everything… there’s quite a few people that are out of jobs. I’m just happy to be on a bike.”Hopkins came close to returning to MotoGP for 2010 with the new FB Corse team, but broken promises turned him off and he ultimately opted to return to his roots with the team he won two titles with in his youth.”I had a bad year in ’08,” Hopkins said. “I made a massive mistake by going to Kawasaki. It’s one of those things and that’s what happens. And then they [Kawasaki] pulled out in ’09 and wanted me to forfeit half of my contract money to go race the Hayate bike – on a bike that I hated anyway. We said no and said we’d get something else worked out. We did the Honda [with Stiggy in World Superbike] thing and I got injured quite a bit on that thing. So ’09 was a disaster. Just horrible. FB had been calling me and calling me and it sounded interesting, but we were supposed to be on the bike in December – testing. I said, ‘Hey, I’d like to consider it and try it, but there’s no way I’m signing anything until I get on the bike and try it. This thing has come out of thin air.’ December passed and they didn’t have the bike ready so I said, ‘Alright, let’s try the beginning of January.’ We had already been talking to [M4 team owner John] Ulrich and Monster about getting this deal all lined up in case, and then January came and then mid-January and I still wasn’t over there testing the bike so I just said ‘No, I’m done.’ It’s too close to the season.’ They have two or three tests before the start of the season and there’s no way that bike can be competitive. It’s just not going to happen.”I just didn’t want to do that amount of work, that amount of traveling, to be racing for last place. It’s not what I need right now because my confidence has been pretty beaten up over the last couple of years. I just want to get back on a bike, stay healthy and have fun. In my eyes, this was the best opportunity to do so. We’ll see what happens.”One thing that intrigues Hopkins is that MotoGP will go back to 1000cc motorcycles in 2012.”It would be nice to have some successful seasons and see what it’s like when they come back out in 2012 with the 1000s in GP,” he said. “That’s definitely put a little fire in my eye. That’s definitely a good thing with the new 1000s over there in MotoGP. I’m still only 26 so I’ve got a bit of time left.”
Starting Over: John Hopkins
Paul Carruthers | Editor
Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.