John Hopkins: My goal is MotoGP
7 October 2011
John Hopkins will be a World Championship rider in 2012. That much he is certain of.
The 28-year-old, looking to complete a stunning career revival by winning the British Superbike title this weekend at Brands Hatch, has made no secret of his desire to return to MotoGP next season.
Hopkins was a full-time grand prix rider from 2002-2008 - starting at Red Bull Yamaha and finishing with a year at Kawasaki. In-between, Hopkins rode for the factory Suzuki squad, with whom he took four podiums and fourth in the 2007 world championship.
Injuries at Kawasaki, which then withdrew from MotoGP at the end of 2008, marked the start of a downward spiral that Hopkins feared he might not overcome.
But MotoGP team manager Paul Denning still believed in Hopkins, and an agreement was reached for the Californian to race for Denning's Samsung Crescent Suzuki BSB team in 2011.
"I took the best option to jump-start my career," said Hopkins, during an exclusive interview with Crash.net. "It was like coming home to a second family."
A rejuvenated Hopkins soon repaid Denning's faith, taking his first BSB win in round two and he leads the championship by eight points heading into the Brands Hatch decider.
"It's been a huge learning curve," said Hopkins. "The tracks, the competition... I've done MotoGP, AMA and some World Superbike races, but I've never had fiercer competition while racing than in BSB.
"I knew the [Showdown] points' system would favour me because my main aim was to stay in the top six and learn the new tracks, but we didn't expect to win so early and we've stayed where we wanted to be."
Regardless of the championship outcome, Hopper's achievements in BSB, WSBK (on pole as a wild-card at Silverstone) and as a MotoGP stand-in for Rizla Suzuki this season mean he is on the wanted list of several teams for a 2012 grand prix ride.
"My goal is to get back to MotoGP. My mind is set so that anything else is just a stepping stone to MotoGP," said Hopkins.
"I have a whole new approach to racing and my career. I am more mentally tough and more driven than I've ever been. If you want to be the best, then you have to race the best, and I still believe the best are in MotoGP."
The obvious MotoGP choice would be a return to Rizla Suzuki, but the factory's Japanese bosses are yet to confirm their 2012 plans and Hopkins - also linked to LCR Honda - warned that he can't wait forever.
"I'd like to continue the relationship with Suzuki, but everything is still a bit unknown with their MotoGP plans," he said. "Paul has said that everything [at Suzuki] is still on hold and I'm not going to let anything slip through my fingers by having to wait too long.
"This entire year for me has been about trying to lock-up the British Superbike Championship, so I'm not concentrating on anything else until I finish that. Then, on Sunday night, I'll start trying to make a decision."
Should a 2012 MotoGP ride prove impossible, Hopkins has 'plenty' of World Superbike options.
"At the end of the day, I want to progress." he said. "Even if we don't get back to MotoGP next year, there are plenty of competitive options on the table in World Superbike.
"So regardless, I'll be world championship racing next year. That I can say is certain."
Also for certain is that Hopkins will be back in MotoGP, for a third 2011 appearance with Rizla Suzuki, during the Malaysian Grand Prix from October 21-23.
The #21 finished tenth as a replacement for the injured Alvaro Bautista at this year's Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, before being forced to withdraw from a wild-card ride at Brno due to a hand injury in practice.
Should Hopkins seal a 2012 MotoGP ride, he would be the only rider other than seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi to have raced in 500cc.
MotoGP is moving to 1000cc engines for 2012.