During the deluge of stories about the Kawasaki catastrophe and the fate of Marco Melandri with the Hai-Karate, sorry, Hayate bike, there was always one question left unanswered: What about Hopper? For though the news was full of the fate of Kawasaki, Michael Bartholemy, Marco Melandri, Jorge Martinez, Carmelo Ezpeleta and a host of other characters, the one name that seemed always to be missing was that of John Hopkins.
That was mystifying for more than one reason, but most of all, because of money. Though Melandri is a big name in Italy, it was unclear what the Italian's role was in bringing sponsorship to the Kawasaki project. As for Hopper, on the other hand, it was an open secret that the Monster Millions came to Kawasaki through the link to the American. Though it was also said that once you took Hopkins' salary away, there wasn't a whole lot left to fill Kawasaki's coffers. It seemed that the combination of the more marketable Melandri and Hopper's PR faux pas at Misano last year - where the American went missing for a day - had swung the scales in Melandri's favor, leaving Hopkins out in the cold.
Fortunately for Hopkins, he wasn't left entirely out in the cold. There was one rumor that emerged a couple of times, and that was that Hopper was about to make the switch to World Superbikes. There were rumblings that Hopkins would replace Makoto Tamada at Paul Bird's Kawaski WSBK team, but as this flew in the face of Kawasaki's traditional demand for a Japanese rider, this was widely disregarded. But the one rumor that proved more difficult to quell was talk of Hopkins' joining Stiggy Racing, to ride a Honda alongside Leon Haslam.
Adding substance to the rumor was Roberto Rolfo's adamant denial on his website that he would not be losing his place at the Stiggy team, and that he would be racing in 2009. In the words of Queen Gertrude, the lady did protest too much, methinks. Once racing started, however, with both Stiggy Honda seats filled by Haslam and Rolfo, as the entry list had suggested, any talk of Hopkins joining the team subsided.
But that was premature. For the rumors were correct after all: according to that bible of American motorcycling, Cycle News, John Hopkins is to join Stiggy Racing to race a Honda in World Superbikes, starting in two weeks' time at Valencia. The deal would see Hopper ride alongside Haslam and Rolfo, expanding the team to a three-man outfit. Hopkins would bring sponsorship from Monster to the team, along with his personal sponsors Arai, Alpinestars and Spy Optics. MCN's Matthew Birt was reporting that Hopper will make an official announcement on the deal on Friday, but after news emerged of the deal, Hopper's manager Bob Moore confirmed the story to Roadracing World.
The deal is vital to Hopkins' future in motorcycle racing. After a crash-ridden season on the Kawasaki, during which he was inundated with accusations that he had only made the switch because of the money on offer, Hopper could not afford to sit out a season and hope to make a return to MotoGP in 2010. With the MotoGP grid shrinking rather than growing, Hopkins' best hope was to get a ride somewhere he could be competitive, and show what he is capable of.
At the age of just 25, Hopkins still has a lot of racing left in him, and a chance to make a return to MotoGP at a later date, once he has proved himself in World Superbikes. The more relaxed atmosphere in the World Superbike paddock should also suit Hopkins' personality better: the American has gained a reputation as the wild man of racing, and the last of the hedonists in motorcycle's premier class. The MotoGP paddock will be a good deal quieter without Hopper, but they will be getting a lot less sleep over in WSBK.