By Peter McLaren

John Hopkins says Kawasaki is sick of being seen as the MotoGP underdog, and that he is determined to be the man that takes them to the front of the premier-class grid.

After six seasons in MotoGP, and five straight at Suzuki - the last of which reaped his first four podium finishes and a best yet fourth in the world championship standings - Hopkins made the decision to switch to Kawasaki, the only manufacturer yet to win a four-stroke MotoGP race.

Related Articles spoke to Hopkins during a break in his testing schedule at Sepang last week - and began by asking him about the reasons behind his team change...

"Suzuki and I left on clean terms. There were no uneasy thoughts afterwards," said Hopkins. "We basically explained to them that it's just a new motivation for me. After being in MotoGP for the last six years, it's something to keep me fresh and keep me going for another five or six years.

"The Kawasaki has always been viewed from the outside as a bit of the underdog. But - watching the bike out on track personally during the last year or two - I've seen its potential and I just don't think that the potential has been maximised by a lot of the Kawasaki riders in the past.

"Also, because they've been perceived as the underdog, everyone at Kawasaki is extremely motivated to get to the front of this championship - and I'm hoping I'll be the one to take them there.

"I know that with their budget, their motivation, their engineers and some hard work by us all we can make this bike into a front-running machine in a short amount of time.

"So now it's the riders' turn to go out, tell them what the problems are, get them fixed and get this thing to the front of the pack real quick. Everything seems to be working out so far, so good. I get along well with everyone in the team so things are on the up and up right now," he added.

In order to capitalise on the ground gained last season, the highlight of which was a second place finish for Randy de Puniet at Motegi, Team Green has opted for a constant flow of new parts to determine the format of its '08 - rather than an all-new 'ground-up' project. But even the evolutionary process is not always perfect.

"On the whole this week's gone really good," reflected John. "We've had some more new parts here. It's been pretty much hit-and-miss; some things good and some things bad. Pretty much off and on, but for the most part the pros are outweighing the cons - that's the main thing.

"The overall package has tremendous potential," he continued. "Unfortunately right now we're having some small mechanical issues that are making it a little hard to deliver on that potential. We're having a few little clutch problems. It's something that should be easily fixed. It'll be good - especially when we have the new motor in our bike."

Hopkins left the Sepang test with the fifth fastest lap time, using a Bridgestone qualifying tyre, and having had his first chance to circulate alongside a full line-up of 2008 factory machines.

For many of his previous seasons in MotoGP, Hopkins was forced to over-ride through the corners in order to compensate for a power deficit - but it seems that the 24-year-old could experience life in the MotoGP 'fast lane' in 2008, thanks to the "surprising" power output from the ZX-RR's pneumatic-valve engine.

"We're fairing out pretty well against the other bikes," stated Hopkins, when asked how things were looking out on track. "I'm still surprised at the amount of horsepower that the machine has and, from what I'm hearing about the new motor, that's going to be improved even further.

"I'm extremely happy with it all and just looking forward to continuing on and trying different circuits. Malaysia is difficult to actually get a true judgement about what's going to be good and what isn't.

"Once we get to Phillip Island and Jerez and Qatar, then we'll have a clear understanding of what kind of a position we'll be in right away," he concluded.

The Phillip Island test starts on January 30 and will see Hopkins and team-mate Anthony West ride with Monster Energy livery on the side of their ZX-RRs for the first time.