Samsung Crescent Racing's John Hopkins will start from P2, on the front row, for tomorrow's first race of the fourth round of the British Superbikes Championship being held at the Thruxton circuit in Hampshire. His team-mate Jon Kirkham starts from P13.
In what's been an impressive build-up for Hopkins – who is making his debut at the circuit – he's consistently stayed inside the top-10 in free practice, lowering his lap time by half-a-second each session. In qualifying he recovered from a testing second qualifying session (when a defective tyre cost him precious grip) to storm the final session with a time barely 1/100th second off pole.
Team-mate Jon Kirkham – a winner at the last round at Croft – pushed hard to improve his set-up through practice and had just entered the top ten yesterday afternoon when he crashed at Goodwood. His bike was repaired overnight but a small technical glitch resulting from the crash cost him precious time in final practice. Kirkham, too, was to suffer tyre issues in Q2 and so failed to make the final qualifying session. He starts tomorrow's first race from the fourth row.
John Hopkins: "It's been an interesting weekend so far, learning the track from scratch. This is another one where you can't hurry the learning process. You must ride so hard here, like flat out in fifth gear, when cranked to the edge of the tyre – with the track dropping away – so it's critical to have a good understanding of what's coming and a good feel for what's going on.
"Most importantly I have to give so much credit to my crew, and crew chief Lez Pearson, for giving me such a great bike – hats off to them, they really know what I like in a bike. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow!"
Jon Kirkham: "We didn't start the weekend too badly, I found I felt okay on the bike despite being sore after the Croft crash. Then yesterday afternoon's crash at Goodwood really set us back. That's a fast corner to crash on and it did knock my confidence. It didn't do my crew any favours either, another rebuild after they'd already rebuilt the bike after the Croft crash.
"In qualifying what I was missing was a good tow to bring my time up – many of the best times have come by using the slipstream of another rider. I was set-up to get a tow off Chris Walker in Q2 when he went on the grass so I didn't get the full benefit and my time just wasn't enough. But I'm feeling good for tomorrow. The last three practice/qualifiers have all been troubled for me but we have had the speed for the race, so I'm looking to improve."
Jack Valentine, team manager: "Hopper has chipped away at the job all weekend, as ever he's overcome every hurdle and put himself in one of the strongest positions for tomorrow's first race. The races are very much going to be about tyre management, saving the best until last, but I'm sure that Hopper will be on top of the situation. There is an opportunity here to grab the championship lead and build up some very good points and we'll look to do that, but we know the championship is long and there's the 'reset' when we get to the Showdown phase, so we're taking each step as it comes.
"For JK he's had another less than perfect run-up to the races. He was going well, building up his speed steadily when he crashed. That created a further set-back in final practice. He suffered the same tyres/grip issues as Hopper in Q2 but wasn't able to find enough speed to stay in the running. I'm sure – as JK has proved every race – that he'll improve dramatically come race day."
MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship,
Round four, Thruxton
1. Alex Lowes (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) 1m:14.891s
2. John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Racing) +0.016s
3. Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) +0.022s
4. Michael Rutter (Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati) +0.126s
5. Peter Hickman (Tyco Honda) +0.154s
6. Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda) +0.199s
7. Michael Laverty (Swan Yamaha) +0.235s
8. Loris Baz (Motorpoint Yamaha) +0.277s
9. James Westmoreland (Motorpoint Yamaha) +0.441s
10. Dan Linfoot (Sorrymate.com Honda) +1.206s
13. Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Racing) 1m 15.616s