It’s been a few years since a wild card rider turned up at a World Superbike race and mixed it with the frontrunners, but that’s exactly what Samsung Crescent Suzuki Racing rider John Hopkins did at Silverstone. The 28-year-old American arrived at Silverstone with the aim of two top-10 finishes, but his pace from the opening session soon upped his expectations. Despite racing in the British Superbike Championship, Hopkins had only completed around 20 laps of the track, unlike his WSB rivals who raced at the circuit last year. By Saturday Hopkins was looking seriously fast and after qualifying for Superpole with ease, he cruised into the final Superpole session to take pole and set a new best lap – eclipsing Cal Crutchlow’s record set in 2010.
Starting the two races from pole position there was talk of podiums and even race wins, but after pushing hard and fighting for position with Haga and Melandri, the Suzuki rider dropped to fifth and cited a rear brake problem for his drop.
“It was a good race,” said Hopkins. “Marco [Melandri] and I have had some nice races before and it’s fun out there. Excuses are like assholes, everyone’s got one, but we did have a problem with the rear brake. I’m a rider that’s constantly on the rear brake, whether it’s corner entry or corner exit. But something snapped on the brake lever from about the third or fourth lap on. I had to change my whole entire style of riding and completely wore out my tires trying to learn how to ride that way.”
Hopkins continued: “The BSB races aren’t near as long as the World Superbike races so the tires get more used than what they do in BSB. We’re sliding around twice as much out there with this length of a race. So I just need to get used to the completely wasted tire. I don’t think I conserved my
Samsung Crescent Suzuki’s John Hopkins (#211) overcame a malfunctioning rear brake in the first race to finish fifth.
tires as well at the beginning.”
In the second race Hopkins had a fully functional rear brake, but struggled with the speed of his Crescent Suzuki against the full factory competition at the front of WSB.
“I’m not happy,” he said. “We didn’t have a problem, it was just every time I go down a straightaway I get passed and I can’t do anything. I destroyed the tires having to keep up with everyone in the corners and having to make up time. I was losing a lot of power down the straights. It is what it is.”
Overall glory went to that man again – Carlos Checa. The Althea Ducati rider qualified on the front row and after spending early laps in the pack, worked his way to the front before pulling a two-second lead. His performance was virtually identical in Race 2, which meant another double win and 50 points. His performance at a track where he expected to struggle means that he now leads the overall championship standings by a comfortable 62 points with four rounds, eight races and 200 points still available.
Checa’s closest title rival, Max Biaggi, failed to deliver the performance expected after he was plagued by setup issues on his Alitalia Aprilia. His lack of pace was noticeable from the opening Free Practice session on Friday and was compounded by a crash in Superpole, one which ultimately led to him qualifying way down in 11th place. In the opening race a clutch problem and a collision with Corser meant he spent the race battling mid-pack where he finished 11th.
With his Silverstone weekend and championship challenge in tatters, Biaggi showed why he is a five-time world champion by producing a rousing display to secure fourth after a race long battle with Melandri for the podium.
Factory Yamaha man Eugene Laverty made his return to the podium with two highly impressive second-place finishes. The last time he was on the podium was Monza when he secured the double win. Laverty expected to be fast at his home track but had to make big changes to the setup of his R1 after ending the first day off the pace. By the end of Saturday he’d qualified on the front row and in the two races he was the only man capable of keeping Checa honest.
Following Yamaha’s recent decision to pull out of WSB at the end of the season, Eugene Laverty (above) and Marco Melandri (below) are now looking for a job in 2012.
With Yamaha teammate Melandri finishing a hard-earned third in both races, it was a good day for Yamaha. But any celebrations were short lived after Yamaha released a statement on Monday afternoon in Europe saying that they would be withdrawing their team from the World Superbike Championship. It means that one of the most successful teams in recent years and 2009 world champions will quit the series at the end of 2011. Yamaha Motor Europe, the division behind the decision, have cited financial constraints due to the global economic downturn.
Ironically, Yamaha’s bombshell came after a weekend of meetings between manufacturers, the FIM and WSB owners to discuss ongoing cost cutting measures. The outcome of the meeting is that WSB will adopt a one bike rule from 2012 and there will be a limit to the amount of private testing. Whether these measures will be enough to stop manufacturers like Yamaha from quitting the series remains to be seen.
In World Supersport, Yamaha rider Chaz Davies cemented his claim to be world champion by producing another impressive and calculated display. He now leads the championship standings by 42 points ahead of Spaniard David Salom. The World Superbike Championship now enters its summer break with the next round of the championship being held at Nurburgring in Germany on September 4th.