Suzuki's John Hopkins will start tomorrow's Malaysian GP from the third row of the grid after his end-of-session bid for the front row was foiled by drops of rain falling on part of the 5.548km Sepang circuit.

Hopkins had clocked up two red helmets on the TV monitors - denoting fastest time on the first two of four sections of the track - when he hit the damp section and his hopes of improving his position were dashed. "It was just a sprinkling but I could feel the bike move around," he said.

Yesterday the 21-year-old Anglo-American was fourth fastest and one position higher would have put him on the front row of the grid for the second time in three races. He did cut his time today - but still lost positions on the grid.

"I'm confident for the race, but today's session didn't go too well," said Hopkins. "We changed a lot of things to try and make it better and my crew worked really hard... but I think we changed too many things, rather than concentrating on one bike and a few settings.

"I wasn't able to get a good rhythm. And at the end we made some improvements that will definitely help with race tyres over full distance. I guess I just had an off day," he said honestly. "Every rider does sometimes and unfortunately mine was today. I'll get a good night's sleep and get a good day tomorrow. The Bridgestones will work really well towards the end of the race. I'm definitely aiming for the top five."

"John got everybody's blood pressure up in the garage with a couple of red helmets, and then he ran into a spot of rain. If that's how he goes on an off day, I can't wait for him to have a good day tomorrow," said team manager Garry Taylor.

Meanwhile, temporary team-mate Yukio Kagayama, substituting again for injured 2000 World Champion Kenny Roberts Jr., placed 20th, also losing positions in spite of improving his best time of yesterday.

""othing bad happened today and we made the bike a little better... but the result is no good," said the Japanese. "We have a few small problems on the chassis side that we must fix. At the moment the bike doesn't allow me to be aggressive. I need to be more physical, and then I can go faster. I hope we can get that right for tomorrow."

"Yukio is getting frustrated but he has to remember that he is up against riders who have been on the same bikes and using the same tyres all year, and they're at the top of their game," reassured Taylor.

 

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