The grief I got for being critical of Jacob Smrz in the opening round of the 2015 BSB series - basically not being uncritically supportive (maybe fair enough, given I was a guest of Ducati Uk) - seems vindicated given Hopper jumped on the Panigale and proved its worth. So here's Ducati UK's PR guff with which (this time) I agree with wholeheartedly. Hopper's brilliant and so is the Panigale. If the same was true of Smrz he'd still be in a world championship series
Heroic Hopkins scores best ever result on Ducati Panigale debut
- Amazing performance by former BSB runner-up
- Fastest ever lap set by a Panigale at Brands Hatch
- James Egan gets his best finish in National Superstock 1000
From the very beginning of the weekend Hopkins looked to be at home on the Italian superbike, and as the sessions progressed the Lloyds British Moto Rapido Ducati team has had to make only a handful of set-up changes to ensure the former MotoGP rider was comfortable and fast.
Hopkins actually set his best time of the event in the second of the three part qualifying session on Saturday (18 July) – a lap of 1:25.881s was a full 0.623s faster than the previous best for the bike around the iconic Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Despite not being able to quite match his performance in the final Q3 shoot-out it was ninth on the grid for race one.
The incident-filled battle included two safety car periods, however Hopper maintained a level head and fought with the front pack right up to the chequered flag.
With just a couple of laps to go Hopkins made his move on Michael Laverty in fifth into Graham Hill bend but missed a gear exiting onto the Cooper straight meaning that Laverty could re-pass. Although John couldn’t quite make another move stick, he eventually crossed the line just 0.084s behind in sixth to the delight of the Lloyds British-backed team.
Race two saw another very strong start for the 32-year-old, and in the early laps the #15 bike was running an impressive fifth. As the race progressed, however, Hopkins noticed an issue with the clutch that meant he began to lose positions, and ultimately on lap 14 had to retire the bike. While it was a slightly disappointing end, the weekend as a whole was a big boost for both rider and team.
John Hopkins said: “Today ended up a little bit bittersweet once again. Coming into the weekend my main goal even before getting on the bike was to get into the top 10 and I would have been ecstatic just to achieve that. But the way the weekend went my goals just got further and further up. In race one we were well within reach of those goals, and although I wanted a top five, I was still really happy with sixth. Unfortunately at the end of that race I was just held up by Laverty – I was struggling to get by him as he was quite late on the brakes also. I did make the pass but missed a gear, hit a false neutral and then on the last lap couldn’t get by him.
“I had good start to the second race, I was feeling good and got into a nice rhythm on the first two or three laps. Unfortunately something happened to the clutch, so being out of the points I decided to bring the bike home rather than doing any damage to the bike. Overall I’m extremely happy and confidence-wise this has been amazing, this bike is 100 per cent capable of being on the podium and a little more time under my belt I am definitely the person that can put it there. I’m not properly bike-fit as I have not been racing for such a long time so I will be a bit sore at the end of the weekend. However I haven’t enjoyed myself on a motorcycle like this in a long, long time – so a happy rider is a fast rider!
Steve Moore said: “We have proven the bike, proven the team, proven the pace of the engine, proven that we have an amazing fan base and gained a top six finish. The target at the beginning of the year was top six finishes and to make the showdown, and first time out Hopper gets top six. A bit of a shame about the clutch, he uses the clutch where previous riders haven’t so it has showed up a weakness that we haven’t experienced before. Now we know that we can get it fixed and move on to Thruxton which is our home round and where the bike is really strong.”
Like Hopkins, Egan got faster and faster over the three days, securing ninth on the huge Superstock grid with his best ever lap of the Grand Prix track at Brands Hatch.
The South African racer moved up a couple of places and soon found himself embroiled in a titanic battle for fifth that ran right to end of the contest. With yellow flags at the final corner, James had to ease off despite being in a position to pass, drawing alongside the Kawasaki of Alex Olsen across the timing line to register just 0.022s behind in sixth. This mirror image of Hopkins’ results are a season’s best for both rider and team, making it a top weekend for the Ducati Panigale in both classes.
James Egan said: “I’m really pleased with the result – we’ve really got to try and push for a top five now – it was so close and a real photo finish! It was a proper scrap from start to finish which is always so exciting. Our lap times weren’t quite as quick but that’s because we were swapping positions and banging fairings so much! In the closing laps it was like skating on ice – fortunately the tyre wear is pretty good on the Ducati, but of course all the top guys in this class have got their bikes dialled in and it’s never easy to pass. My bike has unique strength, we’ve got great punch off the turns and it’s now becoming more natural for me to use that punch to my advantage. I’m feeling at home, and it was good to have a proper scrap and have fun out there.