John Hopkins will be rolling back the years as he makes a return to the Rizla Suzuki team at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez.
Hopkins will be back with the team that he last rode for in 2007, when he took a podium position in his final race in Rizla Suzuki colours to secure fourth place in that season’s world championship. The Californian’s inclusion in the Suzuki squad is due to the enforced absence of regular rider Álvaro Bautista, who is recovering in Spain following surgery on the broken left femur that he suffered during the first event of the season in Qatar. Hopkins has now fully recovered from a wrist injury that almost ended his career last season and is currently in the middle of pre-season testing for the British Superbike Championship with the Samsung Crescent Racing team, where he is looking to re-build his form and make a full-time return to the world stage.
Jerez is one of the best attended Grands Prix on the calendar – nearly quarter-of-a-million people visited the 4,423m circuit throughout the three days of last year’s event. The fans that pack the grandstands serve up one of the most intense atmospheres experienced anywhere on the MotoGP calendar and the track produces some great racing due to its undulating layout, hard-braking corners and endless camber changes, all adding to a colourful and exciting event.
Hopkins will take to the track on Friday for two free practice sessions. This is followed by a further free practice session on Saturday morning and then the hour-long qualifying session in the afternoon to determine grid positions for Sunday 27-lap race, which gets underway at 14.00hrs local time (12.00hrs GMT).
Rizla Suzuki also hopes to welcome Bautista to Jerez as he plans to visit the race – unfortunately as a spectator – while he continues on his road to recovery. The Spanish star is making rapid improvements from the operation to repair his broken thigh bone and is hoping to make a return the racing action at the earliest possible opportunity.
“I was shocked by what happened to Álvaro, especially after such good winter testing, and I really wish him a speedy and full recovery – I wanted the opportunity to get back on a MotoGP bike, but not under these circumstances. I’m under no illusions that this will be tough weekend for me, as I’ve not been on a GP machine for a couple of years or ridden the new control tyres – except for the filming I did in Qatar a couple of weeks ago – so I realise this will be a step up from what I have been riding recently. The bikes have moved on in the last three years, but when I rode the GSV-R at Losail it seemed so familiar and I immediately had a good feeling, but that was at filming pace, so it’s going to be a lot different at race pace! I know the Jerez track well, so it’s not like I need to learn a new circuit and I also know the team well so that that will help a lot. I will certainly be trying as hard as I can to get a good result and make sure that I don’t disappoint anybody – myself included. I want to say a big thank-you to Suzuki and Rizla for giving me this opportunity and I intend to pay back their faith with a good performance on my return to MotoGP.”