John Hopkins scores maiden BSB victory
2 May 2011
John Hopkins can call himself a British Superbike race winner just two rounds into his rookie campaign after an aggressive charge to the front of the pack at Oulton Park.
A close race that saw the top five covered by a mere second as they crossed the finish line, Hopkins led just one full lap after pouncing on a minor wobble for Michael Laverty during the penultimate revolution.
Though he had to defend hard from the Swan Yamaha rider over the course of the final lap, it was Laverty that made the error just corners from the chequered flag as he ran on at the Hizzy chicane, dropping him to fifth position.
The race was defined by a safety car period mid-race, prompted by a spectacular accident for Josh Brookes, the Relentless by TAS Suzuki man coming down hard as he chased leader Stuart Easton.
Indeed, having gotten the jump at the start, Easton, Brookes and shock front row starter Alex Lowes initially established a sizeable advantage over the chasing pack, their cause aided by Byrne running off at Hizzy's on lap five and forcing his rivals to back off as he returned to the circuit.
Lowes would eventually drop back as he concentrated on his EVO lead, leaving Easton and Brookes with a healthy lead over Hopkins, Laverty and Michael Rutter by lap nine.
However, just as Brookes looked on the verge of launching an attack, he lost the front-end of the GSX-R1000 on the run to Brittens, the bike catapulting across the chicane, just missing the unaware Easton and showering him with debris. Though Brookes walked away from the shunt, the safety car was released to clear the wreckage.
As such, Easton now had Hopkins, Laverty, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Shane Byrne for close company with seven laps of the race remaining.
At the restart, it was Laverty immediately on the move as he pushed his way past Hopkins on lap 14 before following it up with a pass on Easton for the lead on lap 15.
Laverty's charge to the front, from 11th position on the grid, had threatened to be compromised by an earlier incident in the race when his failed attempt to pass Rutter at Hizzy's resulted in him going off the track, only to resume directly in the path of the Ducati man. Forcing Rutter to drop positions to both Kiyonari and Laverty as he sat up, the incident was investigated by stewards, though no action would be taken against the Swan Yamaha rider.
Even so, Laverty pushed on to create a comfortable advantage heading into the penultimate lap, only for him to be caught out slightly by dust that had been kicked up on the exit of Cascades. It was the invitation Hopkins – who had just passed Easton – needed to dive up the inside at Island Bend and lead a BSB race for the first time.
Laverty recovered for second position and set about regaining the lead over the final lap. However, far from pressuring the BSB rookie into a mistake, Laverty out-braked himself at Hizzy's once more to drop behind the chasing pack.
It meant Hopkins had just enough of a gap over Easton to score his first ever Superbike victory since making his category debut back in 2009. The result also makes him the first American to win a BSB race.
Easton was on the podium once more in second, the MSS Colchester Kawasaki rider moving into the same position in the standings as a result.
A clamour to the finish line saw Shane Byrne grab third from race one winner Kiyonari by a tenth of a second, the former champion having now established an 11 point advantage in the standings.
Behind Kiyonari, Laverty was a fairly disgruntled fifth after a tumultuous day of racing, comfortably ahead of Rutter, who nonetheless enjoyed a strong run to sixth position.
Despite setting the fastest lap of the race, Jon Kirkham – who started ahead of Hopkins on the grid – could get no higher than seventh position, the Suzuki man ahead of a charging Peter Hickman, the Tyco Honda rider recording his best BSB finish in eighth.
Loris Baz and Gary Mason completed the top ten, ahead of Chris Walker, Martin Jessopp, James Westmoreland, Lowes – who slipped back to 14th but still claimed EVO honours – and finally Dan Linfoot, the Honda man recovering from an earlier off to score the final point.