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Hopkins on top form at Brands Hatch GP

John Hopkins has significantly narrowed the gap to the lead of the 2011 British Superbike Championship after placing fourth in the first race of this weekend's programme at the Brands Hatch GP circuit. His team-mate Jon Kirkham placed ninth.

Today's was a busy schedule with two practices this morning followed by qualifying then the first race of the weekend this afternoon. With restrictions on the GP circuit meaning this morning was the first time the riders got to practice on the full circuit, it's been a testing time for the team as they endeavoured to find the best set-ups for the three races this weekend.

John Hopkins was again a top runner throughout, placed second then quickest in this morning's practices. In qualifying he missed pole position by just 0.047-seconds. The first race, this afternoon, saw a dramatic change in conditions as a light drizzle fell over the circuit. Hopkins elected to ride on intermediate tyres. After challenging for the lead at mid-distance he dropped to fourth as the track dried and his tyres degraded.

Jon Kirkham hit a technical issue that meant he only rode three laps in first practice. He recovered well to make 11th fastest in second practice but would miss out on making the final ten in qualifying. Starting race one from P16 he pulled through to an impressive ninth by the flag, only 22-seconds off the lead.

John Hopkins: "It's been a great weekend so far. I'm very pleased with the set-up on the bike and I'm really enjoying this circuit. With the light rain at the start of the race this afternoon it was a difficult one to predict, although most of us started on intermediates. I took it steady to begin with as I wanted to make sure the grip was there. So after a few laps I was able to attack, but as the track dried I had to surrender a couple of places or risk crashing.

"The good news was my closest rivals didn't fare so well and dropped out of the points so I'm now just 19 points off the lead and I'm guaranteed into the Showdown. The bad news is those same rivals were able to play the rule book today so they could out-qualify us for tomorrow's race. Effectively running today's race like a qualifier, coming in for slicks and going for a fast lap. That's disappointing for me – and even the winner Josh Brookes – after all the hard work we put in. "

Jon Kirkham: "Not the best start today – missing most of that first practice session with a technical issue – and that put me on the back foot for set-up. And I guess that led me to the point where I missed out on making the cut for Q3 by 0.3-seconds.

"The race wasn't my best, I got boxed in at the start so didn't get away with the group I needed to be in. But it got better and my best lap time was less than 0.2-seconds off Hopper's, and only just a bit more off the winner's, so it wasn't all bad."

Jack Valentine, team manager: "A good day's work from both the lads. Hopper's been at the sharp end throughout, missing pole by the narrowest of margins. He rode a sensible race today, a podium would have been helpful, but he tried everything he could. JK rode a tremendous race as well, the results may not reflect how well he did, but he certainly did a great job and showed a strong race pace.

"I should be very pleased with two top-ten finishes in such tricky conditions, but we've suffered a little due to the BSB rules today. During the race a number of our competitors – running out of contention – pitted and came out again on slicks. They finished out of the points but were able to put in some fast laps – enough to push Hopper and JK onto rows three and four. Being on intermediates and in the thick of the race there was no way they could do anything to respond to that. Even the race winner will start tomorrow from row three.

"So while the boys have done some fantastic work this weekend they've been ambushed for when we come to the first race tomorrow. We can't be too sore about it – we all know the rules – but it does leave mixed feelings knowing the lads are going to have a very tough first race tomorrow through no fault of their own."

MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship
Round Eight, Brands Hatch Grand Prix

Race one result:
1. Josh Brookes (Relentless Suzuki by TAS)
2. Michael Rutter (Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati) +2.072s
3. Gary Mason (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +2.322s
4. John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Racing) +6.022s
5. Chris Walker (Pr1mo Racing Kawasaki) +8.111s
6. James Westmoreland (Motorpoint Yamaha) +10.783s
7. Graeme Gowland (WFR Honda) +11.626s
8. Michael Laverty (Swan Yamaha) +18.849s
9. Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Racing) +22.729s
10. Glen Richards (WFR Honda) +26.227s

MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship standings after Brands Hatch race one:
1. Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda) 214
2. John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Racing) 195
3. Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) 165
4. Michael Laverty (Swan Yamaha) 137
5. Josh Brookes (Relentless Suzuki by TAS) 136
6. Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda) 121
9. Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Racing) 98