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GP Week : 06-May-2008
5 Minutes with ... JOHN HOPKINS GPWEEK: Everyone’s been talking about the Kawasaki ‘Screamer’ motor you tested briefly earlier this year. Is it on the way to the track? JOHN HOPKINS: I hope so. It’s got a lot of good qualities, [like] the way it gets into corners and the overall smoothness. You don’t have the bike swinging around everywhere, because there’s less engine drag. It feels more like the 500 into the corners. At Jerez it didn’t have the horsepower, and the engine management’s all over the place. There’s still a lot of work. Talking of electronics, is that the biggest difference, from Suzuki to Kawasaki? Night-and-day different. Suzuki is still doing everything in- house with Mitsubishi, but Kawasaki does a lot of stuff with Magneti Marelli, and it’s far more advanced. You just hit the apex, and hold the thing wide open. How long does it take your brain to adjust to that? I’m still working it out. Casey [Stoner] was able to get on the Ducati and figure it out quickly, but I’m still working my way up to it. You’ve got the thing at full lean and you’ve got to crack it wide open. Everything that I’ve ridden before, the 500 and the early days of the 990, that wasn’t an option. Where do you stand on the electronics debate – are they good or bad for the racing? I think it’s taken away a bit of fun. A lot of fun. But it’s still loads of fun no matter what. With these 800s everything’s in line, so just to make up that little tenth in every corner you’ve got to push it harder on the brakes and get on the throttle that much earlier. So it’s fun in both ways, but it was a hell of a lot more fun lighting up the rear, picking the thing up and sliding it out. Are you surprised how quickly the young ex-250 riders have adapted? With the 250s you’re almost holding the thing wide open anyway; and on the 800s the racing lines are a lot similar. Coming from 500 and the climax of horsepower of the 990, you have to adjust your style downwards. I think it’s a little bit easier coming upward, but that’s no excuse. Hats off to them. They’re riding well and they’re definitely making it tough. Your team-mate [Ant] West is struggling on the same bike as you. Do you know why? That’s the million-dollar question. I follow him and it looks like he’s riding hard, he’s going hard, he’s pushing hard. He’s doing everything he can. I wish I could help him. At Suzuki, me and Chris Vermeulen always had an inside competition, and I think we made the Suzuki a lot better than it was because we really wanted to beat other. Competition within the team helps the overall performance of the machine. Leaving Suzuki after five years – was that because of a breakdown with the new team manager? We had our disagreements, but my ultimate move had to do with how Suzuki always would get to a point and then hit a barrier. What they came out with at the beginning of last year is what we were stuck with. No improvements, apart from the Bridgestone tyres. I had a great relationship with the engineers. It’s a fresh start for me. I’ve been at it for six years and Kawasaki is really motivated and excited and they’ve got a very strong budget. And they believed in me, so I’ve got to put in the work for them. You have a dramatic riding style. Where is your strength? I would say late braking, corner entry. It’s like a golf swing. Once you get a habit, it’s hard to break. That’s what we had to do at Suzuki – riding at 110 percent, running into the corners a lot harder, carrying a lot more corner speed, because we had to make up what we were losing down the straightaway. It’s a hard habit to break. It has a lot of benefits as well, because going into the last turn, when you’re in a late braking situation, I know I’ll always have the edge. We’re getting fewer stories of crazy adventures, of catching your hair on fire and so on. Has marriage calmed you down? One thing I can say, I definitely enjoyed my teenage years growing up in California. I was always getting into mischief. I found a select few that still wanted to do that when we were in MotoGP. I really had a good time with Garry McCoy and few others, throwing fireworks into the garages at midnight and stuff like that. But once you get to a certain age, you want to focus on your career. I’ve got a girl now that I have a blast with. We’re best friends, we never spend a minute apart. It’s good. I still go out with my buddies. We like to have fun and stuff, but it’s a lot more sensible nowadays. You’ve left England – where are you living now? Miami – I have a condo right on South Beach. It’s cool. Everything we need is right there. In the morning I wake up and I’m on the beach within five minutes, and do my five mile run. Come back, get on my long board, skate around town, then later go and have dinner and a couple of drinks somewhere. It’s fun, it’s good, it’s relaxing. And the weather’s a hell of a lot better than it was in England. Newlywed John Hopkins left Suzuki after five years to join Kawasaki. Now, he’s chasing that elusive first win. He spoke to MICHAEL SCOTT 18