Career turnaround almost complete for Hopkins
Should John Hopkins go on to win the 2011 MCE British Superbike Championship at his first attempt this weekend, it will represent the successful completion of a career turnaround that he admits very nearly didn't happen.
The revival of Hopkins, a former MotoGP front runner, has been one of 2011's more endearing motorsport stories, the American overcoming various personal and physical troubles to capture headlines with star turns in BSB, World Superbikes and even MotoGP.
Indeed, as the final round of the 2011 BSB championship looms with Hopkins carrying an eight-point lead into the triple-header, he finds himself as the subject of speculation for the future, with rumours placing him back in MotoGP as soon as 2012.
This revival comes just a year after Hopkins was considering hanging up his helmet after repeated injury woes kept him out of competition for almost two seasons.
Getting the call from his former Rizla Suzuki MotoGP manager Paul Denning, asking whether he would like to compete in the UK as part of Denning's Crescent Racing squad, Hopkins admits the 2011 season was originally being treated as an opportunity to discover whether he still had a passion for racing.
"This season wasn't entirely about the title and wins, but more as to whether I still enjoyed riding following my wrist injury," the Samsung Crescent Suzuki rider told Crash.net. "This season was make-or-break - physically and mentally. Everything was a bit unknown, but things have been very good, starting with [the first test at] Cartagena. Ever since then, I have really enjoyed myself and I knew we'd have fun for the whole season from that point.
"It was like coming home to a second family. Myself and Paul have such a long-standing relationship that when I was with other teams, we still had a connection, talked and got along well. So when I came back to Suzuki, it was huge. It was a big boost for me, confidence-wise, because I'd never felt so comfortable with a team."
From here, Hopkins hasn't looked back, winning only his fourth race at BSB level and shrugging off a lack of circuit knowledge to look every inch the seasoned contender. Now with three wins from four races in the BSB title showdown, Hopkins is the man to beat heading to Brands Hatch.
"I am pretty confident and I'm feeling pretty good about the weekend," added Hopkins, who has been struggling with a finger injury sustained during an aborted MotoGP wild-card ride at Brno. "The weather could play a huge role, but I will treat it like any other race weekend and go into it trying to do the same job as I have been doing over the last two rounds. My finger is feeling a lot better, so not having to ride through that pain barrier will be a lot better."
Facing a challenge from Tommy Hill, Hopkins's plan for the weekend is to try and stay ahead of the Swan Yamaha man, preferably extending his advantage to 25 points before the final race so he can relax in what he has already confirmed will be his BSB swansong.
"My plan is to go into the weekend to win. My whole intention is to win the championship, so if I can do that in the first two races, then that is my goal. I want to be able to relax as soon as possible, and not have it constantly on my mind. I have eight points now, so if I can get a 25 point lead before the third race, then that would be ideal. If other factors come into it, then I will try to stay ahead of Tommy Hill."
Though Hopkins's movements for 2012 remain unknown, the American told Crash.net that he will be competing at world championship level next season, either in MotoGP or World Superbikes.