In his first year in the BSB...
In his first year in the BSB championship, Hopkins has qualified for the three-event “Final Showdown” that pits the top six riders in a 10-race battle for the title. Here he leads reigning BSB champion Ryuichi Kiyonari (1), Stuart Easton (3), Josh Brookes (2) and main title rival Shane Byrne (67).
Five doctors told Hopkins there was no hope for his wrist. Then he found Dr. David Chao, an orthopedic surgeon who works with the San Diego Chargers NFL football team. Chao gave him a 75 percent chance of having a useable wrist that wouldn’t have to be fused in place. The surgery involved grafting a cadaver tendon, followed by extensive physiotherapy. At the beginning of the season he had about five percent movement. When he returned for the final three rounds, “It hurt like hell…but I could at least use the throttle.” Enough to get on the podium in the last three races.
With the AMA Superbike Championship in decline and rides drying up, Hopkins started looking overseas. Paul Denning, the Rizla Suzuki team manager, was glad to help. Denning had been Hopkins’ boss in MotoGP and held no animosity to his leaving Suzuki at the end of 2007. “We stayed friends,” Denning said, adding that Hopkins visited his home in England during the off-season.
Denning saw Hopkins spiraling into decline, but didn’t want to interfere. “For that difficult period of time, me and most of the guys on my team, even though we knew John well and what have you, really it was letting him try to work it out for himself and get things sorted out.” When Denning ran into Hopkins at last year’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, he saw a completely changed person. “All credit to him. It’s not like he came out with a big placard and said, ‘Right, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ He just did it for himself, not for anyone else. I think it was a step-by-step thing to get himself fixed up.”
The first stage of Hopkins’...
The first stage of Hopkins’ comeback involved a ride with the Monster M4 Suzuki team in AMA racing. Unfortunately wrist problems ultimately required surgery that forced him to miss several races, angering team owner John Ulrich.
Fixed up both mentally and physically to the point that Denning didn’t have second thoughts about re-signing him, this time to the Crescent Racing Suzuki team in British Superbike. Denning adds, “The bloke can ride a motorbike. That was always clear. I didn’t have a second thought about it, frankly speaking.”
So now Hopkins is back into the gypsy lifestyle. “I didn’t have money to rent a home, so I’m just basically living in my van,” a Ford Transit van, though he has a small motorhome at the races. He’s living with his crew chief and sometimes stays with his girlfriend, whom he met after his divorce was finalized. “I mean I just can’t say the year could’ve gone better at this stage.” That includes his results, mostly on tracks that he’s never seen.
The BSB season began slowly on the short and dangerous Brands Hatch Indy circuit. But in the second round at Oulton Park, Hopkins was second in Race One and won Race Two. The victory was his first in nearly ten years: His last win came in a Formula Xtreme race at Loudon in June 2001.
Hopkins showed just how far...
Hopkins showed just how far he’d come by stunning the World Superbike regulars at Silverstone where he qualified on pole position as a wildcard rider.
“I mean, that was hugely emotional,” he said. The win came on May 3, which is “around the day my dad passed away. I couldn’t be more grateful for that weekend. That was awesome.” Four rounds later he won again at Snetteron. In between came podiums in four of six races, putting him in the three-race “Showdown” for the British Superbike Championship.
“This year I felt like I’ve ridden well within my limitations, and on occasion when things are great and everything gels together, we’re able to make a break. The one at Snetterton I gave it absolutely everything I had and put it all on the line. Like when I put it on the line for the one lap when I got Superpole in World Superbike last weekend,” he said of his stunning pole position as a wildcard at the Silverstone WSBK round. “Yeah, most races I normally feel I’m well within my limitations. I don’t make as many just really stupid mistakes. It feels great.