World Exclusive: John Hopkins signs for Kawasaki MotoGP team for 2008
John Hopkins has signed a contract with Kawasaki's factory MotoGP squad for the 2008 MotoGP world championship, MCN can reveal.
An official announcement is expected at this weekend's German GP in the Sachsenring in what is the first major transfer of 2007.
Sources confirmed to MCN this morning that the 24-year-old has agreed terms after rumours emerged last week in America that Hopkins had clinched a deal that will see him end his five-year stint with Suzuki's official factory team.
The American signed a contract in Assen and MCN understands he informed Suzuki of his decision to quit at the end of the season yesterday (Monday).
Kawasaki boss Michael Bartholemy refused to discuss details ahead of an announcement expected this weekend. However, confirmation could now come as early as tomorrow (Wednesday).
MCN understands too that Kawasaki hasn't called off its pursuit of Italian duo Loris Capirossi or Marco Melandri for a ZX-RR slot. When Kawasaki bosses began the search for its 2008 line-up, the preference was to land both Hopkins and Capirossi. With one secured, the chase for Capirossi will continue with the 34-year-olds future uncertain alongside Aussie Casey Stoner in Ducati's factory team still uncertain.
It is not clear yet whether American energy drink Monster will be title sponsor of the Kawasaki 2008 MotoGP effort. Monster came onboard as personal sponsor with Hopkins in 2007 and has been strongly linked with increasing its involvement. Monster currently backs Kawasaki's American superbike team.
As revealed in MCN last month, Hopkins was one of the hottest properties in MotoGP with talks being held with Kawasaki, Tech 3 Yamaha, Gresini Honda and Marlboro Ducati.
A stumbling block for many has been Hopkins' wage demands, but it is understood he has been offered a bumper payday by Kawasaki, with the Japanese factory desperate to get a big name rider on its improving ZX-RR machine.
Hopkins is currently lying fourth in the MotoGP world championship with his premier class breakthrough coming in Shanghai when he claimed his maiden podium finish.
Hopkins' departure from Suzuki, which he has always said would be a massive wrench, leaves the British-based squad searching for a replacement.
Top of the shopping list is former world 250 champion Marco Melandri, who has held discussions with Suzuki boss Paul Denning.
Alex de Angelis is another favourite with Chris Vermeulen now likely to stay on board a factory GSV-R with Suzuki reluctant to have to blood two new riders in 2008.