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GP Week : Issue 38
Close test times promise lively wake for dying 250s DEFENDING 250 champion Marco Simoncelli (Metis Gilera) led the first and third days of testing for the smaller classes at Estoril in Portugal at the beginning of last week. But the charismatic lion-maned Italian was in the end beaten back to third overall. Monday was the fastest of the three days, with the typical high winds of the Atlantic seaboard striking on the final day. And though Simoncelli, right, came close to his rivals in spite of the wind, top spot went to Spaniard Hector Barbera (Pepe World Pons Aprilia). Alvaro Bautista (Mapfre Aspar Aprilia) was second, also on a Monday time. This year will be the last for the traditional 250cc class, one of the cornerstones of the original World Championship in 1949; in 2010 the new MotoGP-2 class for production-based 600cc ‘prototypes’will begin. Close test times suggest the battle for this last classic crown will be as hard-fought and dramatic as was last year’s. Less than two-tenths of a second separated the top trio. There was also a surprise presence up front when Thai rider Ratthapark Wilairot placed second on Monday afternoon. The 125s were testing alongside the 250s, with honours going to Spaniard Julian Simon on the Bancaja Aspar Aprilia. Simon has returned to the class after two years in 250s. Hopkins’ SBK redemption another boost to MOTOGP reject John Hopkins has, as predicted by GPWeek last week, been snapped up by the World Superbike Championship, where he will race a Honda CBR1000RR alongside new team-mate Leon Haslam. The American’s MotoGP career was abruptly terminated when Kawasaki withdrew – there was still one year to run on his contract with the factory team. When the project was resurrected under the Hayate banner, new rider Marco Melandri was kept on the team, and Hopkins dropped. Now he will join the rival series, despite having already missed the first two rounds, on 16 a Stiggy Racing Honda, in the team run by former 250 GP racer Johan Stigefelt. Ironically, his 2008 Kawasaki team-mate Anthony West also rides for Team Stiggy – in the 600 Supersport class. His presence, alongside that of series rookie and triple race winner Ben Spies will further boost SBK’s importance in the USA. Hopper will have his first Superbike race in Valencia on April 5, and he has already stated his intention of going for race wins from the start. Leon Haslam had already proved the machine’s competitive level with a rostrum in Australia. One difference will be a 30-strong grid: Hopkins is used to smaller fields in the increasingly exclusive MotoGP class. He also anticipated closer racing. “The racing seems a lot tighter than MotoGP, and the bikes more closely matched,” he told pressmen. Hopkins’ career resurrection came at the expense of former 250 GP winner Roberto Rolfo, who was eased out of the team to make way for the jobless star. Hopkins will join seven ex- MotoGP regulars and former rivals on the World Superbike grids, including not only Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa, but also new turncoat Shinya Nakano.