SEPANG, MALAYSIA, OCT 21 –
John Hopkins was back at the Sepang International Circuit for the first time in three very long years.When Hopkins last rode here it was as a member of the Kawasaki factory team, which was soon to abandon MotoGP sending Hopkins on a quest to find a home. The Californian bounced around for a year in World Superbike, then settled in with his old team in AMA Superbike before moving on to British Superbike, where he missed out on the 2011 title by .006 of a second. Now he's back in MotoGP where he wants to be, if not next year soon after, and re-learning the motorcycle and tires under very different conditions than he's ridden this year.
This is Hopkins' third ride on the Rizla Suzuki GSV-R800, though he's only competed in one race. Hopkins replaced Alvaro Bautista in Jerez, where he finished 10th in difficult conditions. Next came a crash in a wet free practice for the Czech Grand Prix, where he broke a finger on his right hand. The finger would continue to give him trouble throughout the rest of the BSB season, forcing him to commute back to the U.S. between the three rounds of the Showdown. The finger is still bothersome, but he has to make the best of it in his last ride of the 800cc era.Hopkins was 14th fastest on the first day of practice, just behind Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi, but less than a second from fifth place. Teammate Alvaro Bautista was seventh."Just trying to get comfortable, basically. It's a whole different world," he said. "Like with the tires and everything, with the humidity and the heat and everything, it's nothing in comparison to what the reaction to the tires as I got in Jerez and then obviously in Brno."Yeah, we're just sorting out some things. I'm getting a lot of spin off the apex of the corners. And then it's really hooking up on the drive. Just basically trying to get my confidence level up. We made some slight improvement throughout the time and, yeah, I mean, it's only a second and we're in fifth position. So I mean, obviously, 14th isn't the greatest position. I'm not too happy about that, but I'm very confident we can improve quite a lot. I'm going to feel a lot more comfortable myself tomorrow, so I know there's time to be made there. We got some bike setup stuff to try. Yeah, hopefully that'll work out."The finger was sore, not surprising considering it became infected following the BSB finale at Brands Hatch.
"I don't have a lot of movement in it right now, but I haven't been able to do the proper physical therapy, because it's just been race weekend to race weekend," he said. "Then you want to rest your entire body and I've been traveling back. Went back to the U.S. from Brands [Hatch]. Every one of the Shootout rounds I went back to the U.S. and then back to England, back to the U.S., back to England, back to the U.S. after Brands Hatch, and then was there for five or six days and then on a plane here." The finger infection led to a flu, "so I was like friggin' horrible last week. Just my body is a month and a half of pretty much riding with a broken bone. It's taken it's toll out on me a little bit. It's nothing that can't be treated."Hopkins is the central piece of the rider movement puzzle. Suzuki is expected to announce their Grand Prix intentions this weekend and some believe they'll stay in MotoGP with Hopkins and Bautista. Hopkins' Crescent Suzuki BSB team is racing World Superbike next year and he'd be the perfect fit, but he also has an offer in MotoGP from the LCR Honda MotoGP team."I'm just waiting on Suzuki's decision to see what they're at," he said. "But I do have some good offers and, I mean, I can guarantee I will be on a competitive machine in a world series. But MotoGP is my goal and there is opportunities here, but, I mean, everyone's kind of on hold. All manufacturers are on hold at the moment to find out what Suzuki are doing, because then a lot of stuff will fall into place."