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Hopkins close to a third row start in Jerez

Rizla Suzuki’s John Hopkins produced a great performance at Jerez today that saw him qualify for tomorrow’s race within touching distance of the third row.

Hopkins (P14’ 1’40.310, 26 laps) took big steps today as he tried to find a smooth and comfortable rhythm on the Suzuki GSV-R after over two years out of the saddle of a MotoGP machine. His best time during this afternoon’s qualifying was over two seconds quicker than his fastest lap yesterday and he was only three-tenths-of-a-second away from recording an amazing third row start on his return to MotoGP. Hopkins is still coming to terms with riding the machine, but believes he improves every time he goes out and is in a confident mood for tomorrow’s race

Today’s qualifying was held in overcast conditions, but the strong winds from yesterday did ease a bit making things better for all riders, as Casey Stoner took his second pole position of the season on his factory Honda. Tomorrow’s 27-lap race gets underway at 14.00hrs and with rain threatened at the Spanish circuit it could turn out to be a very interesting affair.

Hopkins is representing Rizla Suzuki at Jerez as a replacement rider for Álvaro Bautista after the Spaniard broke his femur in Qatar just two weeks ago, but Bautista was at the circuit today to give his support to Hopkins and the rest of the team, as he recovers from the injury and makes plans for his return to the racing arena.

John Hopkins:

“I don’t really know where to start! It’s been a good day and we’ve taken everything step-by-step to get where we are. It was good to sleep on the track last night – not literally – but to sleep with it in my mind! This morning we went quite a bit quicker, which we expected to do and again we haven’t made any geometry changes whatsoever to the bike. All we’ve changed has been the electronics and the riding position a little bit, but that has just been some fine tuning. It’s amazing the technology that MotoGP bikes have these days – it is just insane! There are so many changes that can be made for each and every rider, you can easily get lost – that’s why I’m lucky to have such a good base setting to start with. We were able to put in some good times and consistent laps and I’m getting more comfortable with myself and my riding lines. For qualifying I was way too excited at the start and I was making too many mistakes, rushing into the corners and running wide all over the place – I was just a little bit too happy with myself out there! I had to come in and calm it down and breathe a bit before I went back out again. I managed to get a tow from a couple of riders because I need to get as much help as I can this weekend. At the end quite a few people crashed all around me and I was looking for someone to follow to help me learn the lines again. I got behind Dovizioso and Stoner on my last softer tyre and although I made quite a few mistakes on my fastest lap, I still ended up going over two seconds quicker than I did yesterday. I am very pleased and it feels so awesome to be back out there, especially in front of the Jerez crowd. I’m having so much fun on the motorcycle and really excited about riding, I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow and try and get the best result possible. Obviously the goal is to try and get into the top 10 and if we can that would be great. Most importantly though I want to go out and enjoy myself and put on a good show for the fans and the sponsors and especially for the team for all the faith that they’ve put in to me – I hope I can reward them with a good result.”

Paul Denning – Team Manager:

“These two days have demonstrated two things. One that John Hopkins still deserves to be riding at the top level of the sport, and secondly, that Suzuki has done a great job to develop the GSV-R into a package that – without any adjustments at all – has allowed John to qualify the bike so competitively. Over two years away from riding a MotoGP machine – and the amount of braking force and mechanical grip that they have compared to production bikes – means that John’s timing is inevitably a bit off and also that whilst he’s very fit, there is a difference between normal fitness and MotoGP racing fitness. The 27-laps tomorrow will be tough, but irrespective of what happens in the race itself, John has done a fantastic job so far and we couldn’t have wished for a better stand-in for Álvaro.”

Gran Premio bwin de Espana Qualifying Practice Classification:

1. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1’38.757: 2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) +0.158: 3. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) +0.161: 4. Ben Spies (Yamaha) +0.633: 5. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) +0.729: 14. JOHN HOPKINS (RIZLA SUZUKI MOTOGP) +1.553:

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