Hopkins confident for China despite new engine fear

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Factory Suzuki rider John Hopkins is confident he can run at the front in the China GP on May 6, 2007 despite fears that a new engine may not be ready for the Shanghai clash.

The American cast doubt on whether he will get to run a new spec GSV-R V4 motor after a successful debut at a test after the recent Turkish GP in Istanbul.

Designed to improve mid-range performance and corner exit acceleration, the Rizla Suzuki rider has been told that the Shanghai race may come too soon for Suzuki to build enough engines for a race weekend.

If Shanghai is too early, then Hopkins and team-mate Chris Vermeulen won’t competitively debut the new engine until the French GP at Le Mans on May 20.

Hopkins told MCN: “It was a definite improvement but importantly an improvement in all the right areas we needed. Coming out of the corners and the mid-range power was where it was much better but importantly as well we haven’t lost any of the linear power delivery.

“The area we were looking to improve was in the mid-range between 10 and 14,000rpm and in that area its better. At the test it really worked well and I wasn’t with any other riders to see on track how much it had improved. I could just feel it riding it on my own instantly.

“The data shows we have a little bit more speed but at the end of the straight the figures are pretty similar to what we were doing on the old motor in the race. The motor is good but unfortunately we might not have it for Shanghai.

“I had a meeting with the engineers to push to get it for Shanghai but I don’t think we will have them in China just because of the limited quantity. They obviously didn’t want to go ahead and make them until we’d tried them and made sure they were an improvement. We are pushing for Le Mans definitely.”

Hopkins will fly to China wary of the top speed advantage Ducati will hold on Shanghai’s two long straights, with Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi expected to dominate in the Far East.

Hopkins was fourth last season in Shanghai and he said: “Ducati have got a strong bike and they are going to be amazingly fast going down the straight. They’ll definitely be moving people out of the way on the straight.

“They won’t have to worry about making passes on anyone in a particular place because they just sit behind and wait for the straight to blast by. It’s not only top speed. Mid-range power is also where the Ducati is really shining.

“When they are already in second and third gear corners flat-out and you get a straight where you hit fourth, fifth and sixth and that’s their advantage. As far as Suzuki goes it was one of our best races last year and I was fighting for a podium.

“I’m ready for it. Our overall top speed compared to the other machines – excluding Ducati – will be pretty good. I think we have got a really strong chance.”

With the engine upgrade a doubt for Shanghai, Hopkins is hoping Bridgestone continues its impressive early season form. With two victories in the first three rounds, the Japanese factory is riding the crest of a wave.

And Hopkins added: “I’m really looking forward to getting on the tyres there. I tested some new stuff in Turkey that will help define what we are going to run in China.”

Hopkins though said racing a competitive machine this year has taken much of the stress out of racing this year. Previously he’s struggled to be a regular front-runner on a Suzuki that has failed to the competitive package it has proven so far in ’07.

The 23-year-old added: “It makes a huge difference. We have been to three tracks now that are entirely different and been competitive at all of them. Right now I’m confident we can go to any track and be able to run at the front.

“It makes life a lot easier than what it has been in the past. I don’t get as much stressed out and the nerves aren’t going at full throttle. It’s a lot easier to go quicker when you are more relaxed.”

 

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt