Belfast Telegraph

Hopkins holds title desire

By Paul Lindsay

From California with Love was recorded by Jazz pianist Andrew Hill back in 1978, but that is exactly what global motorcycling icon John Hopkins is promising local team Tyco Suzuki when he arrives in County Tyrone at the end of February.

The former Suzuki GP star is making a welcome return to racing after a career-threatening hip injury in 2012, and having narrowly missed out on the British Superbike title with Suzuki family members Crescent, back in 2011 – the 30-year-old Cali resident is gunning for glory this time around with Moneymore based TAS Racing.

Hopkins steps in to replace charismatic Aussie Josh Brookes in the 2014 Tyco Suzuki set-up, alongside former Aussie Superbike champ Josh Waters, who in turn replaces young American PJ Jacobsen – who opted for a World Supersport berth this coming year at Kawasaki.

Hopkins has been putting in the hard yards back at home in Ramona, with relentless motos on his off-road machine, but the San Diego man can't wait to get started when the Moneymore team hits Spain for the opening test on March 6 at Cartagena.

"I've been to Belfast a couple of times. I stayed with Jeremy McWilliams and went trial riding all over Northern Ireland so I'm looking forward to coming back over to meet the team as I hear they are a good bunch of lads," said Hopkins of his new crew.

Poking fun at his time away from circuit racing, he said: "It's going to be a little bit strange at first as I haven't been on a road race bike for quite some time. So the first day will be all about getting acclimated again and up to speed.

"I'll have to make sure and put my knee down instead of my foot out, like I do on the motocross machine," he laughed.

For team manager Philip Neill, he was never in any doubt who would be replacing Brookes when their relationship soured at the end of last season. And after going close to the BSB title this past few seasons with the talented Aussie, Neill believes this could finally be his year to land the most coveted crown outside MotoGP and World Superbike.

"Hopper (Hopkins) has always been a class act on a motorbike and I'm sure that same flare will be there. He proved in 2011 that he's good enough to win the title and that's why we've brought him in."

Despite being out of action for over a year, Hopkins also believes Neill's team, along with the familiar Suzuki's GSX-R package, is just what he needs to right a few wrongs this season.

"I think it's going to be a good year. I feel that I have a point to prove in British Superbike after coming close to winning the championship there in 2011."

Without naming anyone in particular, Hopper paid respect to his main rivals in the upcoming campaign by adding: "There is some strong competition out there for sure, but I think the Suzuki is very capable and a perfectly able bike to go and win the championship on. That's my goal: to win the championship."

Neill's confidence in his new employee was paramount when he explained: "John is enjoying his preparation in the Californian sunshine, and the plan is for him to remain there for as long as possible before joining us in March.

"On the physical side, John is obviously working very hard, and as an ex-Motocross rider, I can guarantee that anyone completing intense 30-minute practice session on a motocross bike is ready to race."

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