Before John Hopkins went off to compete in MotoGP in 2002, he won the 1999 Aprilia Cup Challenge Championship, the AMA 750 Supersport (as it was referred to then) championship in 2000, and the Formula Extreme championship in 2001. In 2002 MotoGP, Hopkins rode a Red Bull Yamaha YZR500 two-stroke against the new four-strokes.
A placing of 15th overall in his first season in MotoGP on the surface may not seem noteworthy until you consider that he sat out the German GP due to a hand injury suffered in a qualifying crash. Still, he finished ahead of some established veterans in the races, with a best finish of 7th at the Dutch TT. Next season, Hopkins will race a Suzuki four-stroke, paired up with 2000 World Champion, Kenny Roberts.
Hopkins has been rated by one of his mechanics to be more talented and driven than either Noriyuki Haga or Regis Laconi, both of whom rode for Red Bull on Yamaha YZR500s in 2001.
Nicky Hayden is well known on the American scene, having won the AMA 600 supersport championship in 2000, competing in and winning various dirt track events and beating the up-to-then unbeatable Chris Carr at the Peoria TT in 2002. Also in 2002 Nicky became the youngest ever AMA Superbike Champion. Here at MD, we figured that Hayden needed to move on to MotoGP. He has, and now he faces the monumental task of becoming competitive in the world arena at the highest level with Honda in MotoGP, alongside perhaps arguably the most talented motorcycle racer walking the planet, Valentino Rossi.
Hopkins has the benefit of a year’s experience in MotoGP, and this could provide somewhat of an edge while Hayden learns to cope with the varied cultures, the traveling and being away from familiar people and surroundings, all while learning new tracks, machinery setup and development, Michelin tires and working with a new team.
Four-strokes are not alien to either rider. Hopkins has ridden a two-stroke for the past season, but has a wealth of four-stroke knowledge from his not so distant days in the AMA.
Honda absolutely crushed the competition this year with the V-5, and the rest of the manufacturers have had to play catch up. Suzuki was well and truly behind, but undoubtedly have learned many lessons, not only about their own machine, but everyone else’s as well, and so should be in much better shape for the first GP of 2003.
The talent of both of these riders is well documented and undisputed. But the question begs to be asked, who of these two will come out ahead of the other next year? Send us an e-mail with your thoughts.