Number 21 on the baby blue Rizla is a familiar site, and potentially a more frequent one in the Grand Prix paddock.
Hopkins faces a hectic schedule in the upcoming three weeks, an August 7th BSB performance at Brands Hatch bookended by his WSB Silverstone and MotoGP Brno wild cards. The SBK effort will be backed by Hopkins’ current Samsung Crescent Suzuki squad, which has enjoyed past success campaigning its home British SBK round (Tom Sykes scored a podium for the team in 2008). The Brno opportunity reunites Hopkins with his long-time GP employer Rizla Suzuki, where he will campaign alongside the team’s lone full-time MotoGP entry, Alvaro Bautista. This will mark Hopkins’ second effort on the GSV-R in 2011, having placed 10th at Jerez while substituting for the then injured Bautista.
A wild card GP offer is a rare prize to come by, yet Hopkins could have had three more potential MotoGP results this year. Only logistics kept Hopkins out of the empty Rizla Suzuki seat at the Qatar MotoGP season opener. Hopkins had flown back to California after riding the Suzuki at Losail for a promotional video shoot, then Bautista broke his leg in practice. Had the timing been different, Hopkins would have been under the Qatar lights on the GSV-R.
MotoUSA’s GP Insider reported Hopkins passing on substitute rides for both Tech 3 Yamaha and Gresini Honda at the Silverstone British GP. Rumors also place Hopper turning down the extra LCR Honda seat for his home Grand Prix, the Red Bull USGP at Laguna Seca (instead the LCR seat was filled by AMA veteran Ben Bostrom, who retired from the race after running off-track).
The decision to pass on these rides confirms Hopkins’ loyalty to Suzuki. There’s plenty of history there, and the sense of unfinished business, between Hopkins and Suzuki. Hopper’s 2007 campaign, a fourth-place overall, was far and away the best result for Suzuki in Grand Prix since Kenny Roberts Jr.’s title-winning season in 2000. Suzuki’s fortunes have since declined, while Hopkins’ plummeted after severing ties with Rizla to embark on the doomed Kawasaki GP effort in 2008. Unproductive runs in the AMA and World Superbike series filled the gaps to his 2011 BSB campaign.
In an exclusive interview with MotoUSA before his Jerez performance, Hopkins’ was implicit, he wants another shot at MotoGP: “I want to get back to GP. I feel in myself mentally that I have a lot more to prove, not to anybody else, but to myself. I want to give MotoGP an honest fair shot – in my head what I think is an honest fair shot. Because I really just don’t think I ever was fully committed as much as I really could’ve been in my previous Grand Prix career. So yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing the steps – doing whatever I have to do to make it a possibility. But I do want to race again in MotoGP for sure.”
Hopkins has eyes for a permanent Grand Prix return, his sojourn in British Superbikes a stepping stone back.
British Superbike success would go a long way to punching Hopper’s ticket back to MotoGP. The 28-year-old has already made history as the first-ever American to win a British Superbike race, and he rates a decent shot at being the first Yank to nab the title as well. Currently second in the standings, 32 points behind HM Plant Honda’s Shane Byrne, the gap isn’t as grim as it seems. The BSB series’ follows a Showdown format, where at the end of the 10th round (Aug 29, Cadwell Park) the top six riders in the championship are elevated to 500 points, with bonus points then added for podium credits. The final three rounds (Donington, Silverstone and Brands Hatch) go on to determine the title. With two rounds until the Showdown, Hopkins is safely in the top six, standing 91 points ahead of the seventh-place rider, teammate Jon Kirkham.
Looking at the remaining schedule, more 2011 Grand Prix appearances for Hopkins seem likely. The USGP at Indianapolis will not be one of them, however, as its conflicts with a BSB date at Cadwell Park. The Misano (Sep 4), Aragon (Sep 18) and Motegi (Oct 2) GP rounds all split between the critical three-round Showdown conclusion in BSB, casting some doubt on his participation too (though not ruling it out entirely). But after the October 9th BSB finale, Hopkins’ schedule is wide open.
The final three Grand Prix of the season – Phillip Island (Oct 19), Sepang (Oct 23) and Valencia (Nov 6) – would be prime opportunities to get Hopkins back into the MotoGP flow. Given Suzuki’s GP plans are mired in uncertainty, its 1000cc program potentially delayed until 2013, the notion of Hopkins back in baby blue Rizla leathers seems as solid as anything in the Suzuki camp.
John Hopkins 2011 Results and Possible Wild Card Dates:
APR 3 MotoGP Jerez – 10th
APR 25 BSB Brands Hatch – 17-5
MAY 2 BSB Oulton Park – 2-1
MAY 15 BSB Croft – 2-3
MAY 30 BSB Thruxton – 4-3
JUN 19 BSB Knockhill – 2-DNF
JUL 3 BSB Snetterton – 1-3
JUL 17 BSB Oulton Park – DNF
JUL 31 World Superbike – Silverstone
AUG 7 BSB Brands Hatch
AUG 14 MotoGP – Brno
AUG 28 MotoGP – Indianapolis
AUG 29 BSB Cadwell Park
SEP 4 MotoGP Misano
SEP 11 BSB Donington Park
SEP 18 MotoGP – Aragon
SEP 25 BSB Silverstone
OCT 2 MotoGP – Motegi
OCT 9 BSB Brands Hatch
OCT 19 MotoGP – Phillip Island
OCT 23 MotoGP – Sepang
NOV 6 MotoGP – Valencia