By Peter McLaren and Andy Stobart
There comes a time in every rider's career where they must cross the line from potential star to proven performer - and Team Suzuki's John Hopkins needs, and expects, 2005 to be the year in which he takes that step.
Former Formula One driver Martin Brundle, now a successful commentator on the sport for British television, claims that an F1 driver is either giving pressure to his opponents or receiving pressure from them - there is no comfort zone in between - and it could be argued that the same applies to MotoGP.
Hopkins, on the eve of his fourth season in the premier-class, is the first to admit that his GP career to date - which began on an outdated 500cc Red Bull Yamaha in 2003, before being supplied with marginally better machinery by Team Suzuki since then - hasn't matched his own high expectations; with a best finish of sixth (2004) and highest championship standing of just 15th (2003).
However, 'Hopper' has taken the pressure during those often gloomy, injury stained, years and with his 2005 Bridgestone shod GSV-R looking like a potent weapon, the fully fit 21-year-old is ready to collect: Hopkins expects nothing less than podiums and race wins this season - while beating team-mate Kenny Roberts Jr and factory Honda rider Nicky Hayden are among his primary targets.
"I've known in my head all along that I have the talent to do it. It looks like I have the machinery and tyres to do it this year so it's only natural that I go out and basically prove to the world what I can do," the straight-talking Californian told Crash.net
"We're looking at our best year yet and we're definitely looking at earning our first podium, especially at the season-opener at Jerez. I've had a good race there in the past and I tend to like the track. I'm going to be disappointed if I'm not on the podium. I will accept a top five, but I will be extremely disappointed outside of the top five," confirmed Hopkins, who has vowed that his next alcoholic drink will be podium champagne.
The Anglo-American then declared that his 2005 ambitions extend further than just finishing in the top three, and the #21 fully intends to join the list of six active (four-stroke) MotoGP race winners by taking victory at both
his home events this year.
"There will be certain tracks where I expect to win; Donington I expect to win, Laguna Seca I expect to win," he stated confidently. "I've always enjoyed Donington, I like Donington as a track and it's a track I expect to win at. As far as Laguna Seca; I expect to win there. As far as any other track; I want to be on that podium. That's my mindset at the moment."
Ever since joining Suzuki, Hopkins has been teamed with the factory's 2000 world champion Kenny Roberts Jr - a rider who has often come under criticism for an alleged lack of effort since his title winning season. So, how does Hopper rate Roberts - who took pole position at Rio last season - and does he anticipate being the faster of the two this year?