John Hopkins and the Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati squad scored their best ever finish with fifth in the first British Superbike Championship race this weekend (18-20 September) at Assen in The Netherlands. It has been a sensational return to the series in the second half of the season as he has matched perfectly with the 1199 Panigale Superbike and run in the front group in almost every session.
The weekend didn’t start out well for the Hampshire-based squad, however, with mechanical issues preventing any meaningful running in both free practice sessions on Friday. Despite such limited track time, Hopkins was right on the pace in the all-important three-part qualifying session on Saturday.
Banking strong laps in Q1 and Q2, Hopper set his fastest time of the weekend in the ten-minute final blast to clinch a spot on the outside of the front row for race one. As the chequered flag was flown John was just half a second shy of the ultimate pace set by Showdown contender Josh Brookes.
Race one built to an exciting crescendo after Hopper lost out off the start line to championship contender Shane Byrne. Settling into a strong rhythm, the #15 machine matched the reigning champion until mid-distance, when the pressure forced an error by Byrne into the final chicane.
This ignited a thrilling second half of the race, as soon the BMW of Michael Laverty joined the battle and the trio traded places time and again. Ultimately Hopkins had to settle for fifth, but it was still a best result for the team and rider combination to date.
Starting fourth for the second encounter, race two was a fraught affair with several aborted starts due to unpredictable rain showers plaguing the Assen TT circuit. With slick tyres and a damp track the start of the race didn’t go to plan for Hopkins as he was pushed out wide into turn one. This put him right to the back, and with a shortened race distance of just 15 laps there wasn’t much time to repair the damage.
Despite this John fought admirably, and with conditions still changeable he managed to pull off a raft of overtakes to haul the 1199 Panigale superbike back into the points. The #15 rider was speeding towards an impressive resurgent top ten finish, however he didn’t quite have enough laps and took the chequered flag in 11th.
John Hopkins said: “It’s been a really positive weekend overall, we had a solid race one, the bike worked great but we were struggling a little bit in the first sector trying to get the bike turned. We made some changes for race two and the bike felt great and I was looking for a podium. Unfortunately at the start of the second race I got pushed wide which in these conditions you don’t want and I lost a lot of ground which I did my best to make up. The bike is working good now so I am looking forward to fighting for a podium at Silverstone.”
Steve Moore said:“I’m really happy with the weekend. The team has been amazing and John has proven once again what a professional he is. It was brilliant to see the Ducati up there battling with the showdown contenders, and to cross the like just 1.5 seconds away from a podium is really special for us. We should go well at Silverstone too, so bring it on!”
It was a Ducati Dutch double for Robbie Brown in the TriOptions Cup, as a field of thirty two 899 Panigales took to the legendary Assen circuit for two more scintillating encounters.
Brown completed a perfect weekend for Boast Plumbing as he secured pole position and both race wins, but it was far from a dominant performance by the 2012 series champion.
Standings leader Leon Morris led the early laps in both bouts, but couldn’t keep up the outright pace for the full distance in either. In the first race he faded to third, while late drama in race two saw him finish second. His championship lead has been reduced to a single point over Brown.
Along with Brown, the other clear front-runner at Assen was Hyside Motorcycles’ Rob Guiver. He traded places at the front in both races, leading the way in Saturday’s 10-lap battle until the last corner of the last lap where a ‘heart in mouth’ move from Brown saw him steal victory.
Race two was another all-out scrap which ended in high drama on the final lap. This time it was Brown leading the way having come back through the field after a slow start, but as Guiver was winding up for a replica manoeuvre on the last lap the pair came upon a back marker. As the #13 machine tried to squeeze through he made contact with the slower machine, breaking the right handlebar. Incredibly Guiver managed to stay upright despite having no control over the front brake or the throttle, and in a moment that could become crucial as the series nears its conclusion, crossed the line sixth to pick up ten points.
Behind the top three was the impressive Greg Gilfillan on the G5G Racing 899 Panigale, who took his third podium of the season in race two. Other standout performances this weekend came from Sean Neary for Paraplus and Philip Atkinson for Highsparks TC5 who each took a fourth placed finish.
With four races remaining in the 2015 season just 28 points separate the top three riders who were undoubtedly the class of the field at Assen. Now the UK’s top one make championship heads to the home of British motor sport at Silverstone where there are sure to be yet more twists and turns before the season finale at Brands Hatch.
Robbie Brown said: “Both races were very dramatic race. Today I couldn’t see what was going on behind me, I could just see +.2, +.4, +.2 and I thought well they are there so just see what happens on the last lap. Then we came across a backmarker and I saw the blue flags being waved and thought he would move out of the way, but he didn’t and as we came up to the fast section I tried to go around the outside. I didn’t see what happen behind but Rob [Guiver] was very lucky to stay on. I feel for him, no one wants that to happen, but I am just chuffed with our result and the weekend as a whole. It’s all important points for the championship.”
Leon Morris said: “To finish third but to be so far back off the front two was massively, massively disappointing yesterday. I crossed the line seven seconds off the lead but by then I had canned any thoughts of closing them down. In reality we needed to find a half a second a lap, so we made some changes which helped but to be fair to them [Robbie Brown and Rob Guiver] they are just not putting a foot wrong. They are inch perfect, they are not running wide and not making mistakes, they are on the limit and that is the reason why the top three are so far ahead of everyone else. Today we were much more in the race but I made a mistake which lost me my chance of winning but I was much happier with how it went. It wasn’t an ideal weekend but it could have been a lot worse so we will move on and look forward to Silverstone.”
Rob Guiver said: “I am absolutely gutted to be honest. I had a good race, a good pace and I was following Robbie [Brown] feeling really, really comfortable and I was basically going to do what he did to me yesterday. I was struggling going into the left before the chicane in race one but we made some changes today which worked really well. I was a lot stronger going through there and I knew I could wait to make my move until the end. I could see Robbie was under a little bit of pressure and was making some mistakes and on the back run to the straight we came up to a backmarker. He (the backmarker) came across and because I was so close behind Robbie’s bike I couldn’t see in front. At the last second Robbie swerved and just missed him but I had nowhere to go and went straight into the back of the backmarker and broke my handlebar clean off, how I stayed on I really don’t know! I am really disappointed because I felt I had at least another half a second in me and the race was there to be won.”