News 20 Mar 2009

Racing Insider #55

John Hopkins will be onboard a Stiggy Racing Honda in World SBK for the remainder of 2009. Plus, MotoGP, AMA SX, and A4DE news.

World Superbike

Stiggy Racing Honda's Leon Haslam will be joined by John Hopkins from Valencia onwards

Stiggy Racing Honda's Leon Haslam will be joined by John Hopkins from Valencia onwards

Various American websites are reporting that John Hopkins will be onboard a Stiggy Racing Honda at the third round of the Superbike World Championship on 3-5 April, and will then compete for the team for the remainder of the season.

Hopkins has long been rumoured before the season even commenced to be joining Stiggy, although it seems it is only now that they have come to an agreement, three races into the season and well down on points from the series regulars. Along the way it has been Yamaha in both MotoGP and SBK that have been rumoured as possibilities, but in the end it looks like it’s the first rumour that has become a reality.

It’s believed that the Anglo-American will test with Stiggy at Almeria in Spain before the race in two weeks time, and one interesting thing to note is that the move places Hopper back on the same team as fellow ex-Kawasaki MotoGP rider Ant West, who is one of Stiggy’s Supersport riders.

It is unknown if Hopper will ride a third bike for Stiggy Racing or replace Roberto Rolfo, but Leon Haslam’s seat remains safe thanks to his impressive podium performance at the opening round in Australia – which was Stiggy’s first SBK event after running a competitive Supersport team for many years.

Expect Hopkins to be reasonably competitive straight off the bat, but my guess is that he’ll get stronger and stronger as the season progresses considering he’s already a few steps behind and hasn’t ridden this year.

The question is, would you rather be Hopper on a proven WSBK machine, or Marco Melandri on the ex-Kawasaki Hayate Racing Team bike in MotoGP? It’s a difficult one to weigh up, although I’m sure Hopkins’ payout from Kawasaki was enough to keep him comfortable for the next few years.

European media sources are reporting that MotoGP commercial rights holders Dorna will be looking to extend the season to around 20 races in the future, despite this year’s championship dropping to 17 rounds after Hungary’s Balatonring was removed from the calendar.

The reason for the series’ extension is believed to be purely for financial sponsorship reasons, as the reduction of Friday practice next year will mean less advertisement for Dorna to offer sponsors. It would take a massive amount of organising for Dorna to allow all teams to do this comfortably, but Carmelo Ezpeleta usually has pretty solid plans to help everybody involved when he envisions something like this.

From a fan’s perspective, more races would mean more Sunday nights watching the races on Fox Sports or Channel 10, although a major concern is adding the rounds in a feasible way to allow the privately entered teams to perform at their maximum – without forgetting that the ideal situation is that we need to attract even more teams to enter motorcycling’s premier class.

We’ll have to wait and see what time final outcome is, but at least for next year you can expect that the series will raise back up to 18 rounds when the Hangarian Grand Prix is rescheduled on the calendar.

Bridgestone swept the podium at last week's AMA Supercross round

Bridgestone swept the podium at last week's AMA Supercross round

American Supercross
Some of our readers would have seen yesterday in the Press Releases box that Bridgestone has pulled the pin on supplying tyres for teams in the American Supercross and Motocross championships from next year onwards due to the economic crisis.

Bridgestone currently supplies tyres for the sport’s two greatest stars, Chad Reed and James Stewart, so it was a massive supply to see them let go of a sport they have dominated in recent years.

We here at wonder if the fact that Bridgestone now has the rights to the MotoGP control tyres had anything to do with their decision, because it’s a massive commitment to supply tyres for every single MotoGP team for both testing and racing.

Whatever the case, it’s a shame to see the economic downturn affect one of the sport’s great companies, and I’m sure the guys will miss the performance of Bridgestone’s motocross tyres in a big way.

While on the topic of American Supercross, Billy Laninovich has replaced the injured Tim Ferry for the remaining AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, teaming up with rookie Ryan Villopoto for the final six races of the season. It’s a great opportunity for Billy, although it won’t be an easy task to do well in what is a stacked field of talent in 2009.

Heading into the final run of races this year, the battle is on between Reed and Stewart, with the Australian just eight points ahead of arch nemesis Stewart in the race for the title. This year’s title is going to go down to the wire, although one more slip up from Stewart could allow Reed the breather he needs. Chad has been Mr Consistency so far this year, finishing on the podium in all 11 races run to date. It’s going be a nail-biter all the way to the end.

Australian Off-Road

Hollis will be going for his second straight A4DE victory

Hollis will be going for his second straight A4DE victory

The Hog’s Breath Cafe Australian 4-Day Enduro (A4DE) is coming up quickly on 16-19 April at Orange, NSW, and yesterday’s press release that Stefan Merriman would be competing in the event didn’t come as a surprise as he’s competing in the entire Australian Off-Road Championship for Ballard’s Wellard Yamaha this year.

But it does setup an intriguing battle between four-times world champion Merriman and last year’s A4DE winner Chris Hollis (Husqvarna), mainly because Hollis’ form in the event over the past two years has been phenomenal. Hollis won Outright last season, and finished second to off-road hero David Knight in 2007, also winning the 250cc four-stroke class.

Hollis snuck past Merriman on the fourth and final day held in muddy conditions, surprising everybody to slot into second position on the Outright podium behind Knight and in front of Merriman. Since Merriman didn’t compete in the A4DE last year, that alone sets up a great battle between young and old this year.