“It's been a difficult weekend for us”
The 2008 MotoGP World Championship got off to a nail-biting start Sunday at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.
The first race of the year saw new faces and old hands battling it out for podium places, providing some
of the most gripping premier class racing for some time.
Kawasaki's John Hopkins started the night on great form, finishing fourth overall in the early-evening warm up, and things were looking positive as the #21 rider got a solid start when the race began at 23:00 hours, local time. He made it up to ninth position in the first few laps but, as the race continued under the extensive floodlights of the 5.38km circuit, he began having problems with front-end grip. Having to fight the bike and hold it up on his leg, the pain of his injured abductor muscle took its toll and he started losing time. Hopper eventually finished the race in 12th place, picking up four championship points.
It was a heroic effort by the 24-year-old Anglo-American, riding at considerably less than peak fitness and, although frustrated not to have finished further up the field, his performance gives an indication of what he will be capable of when he returns to full health and track conditions improve in warmer climes.
Meanwhile, Hopkins's team mate, Anthony West, also had a hard race, starting from the back of the grid after a difficult weekend in which he struggled to find his form on the Ninja ZX-RR. Having crashed during the weekend's earlier practice sessions, his confidence had dropped and he, like his team mate, struggled with the tricky conditions on the track, caused by low night time temperatures in the Qatari desert. The 27-year-old Australian crossed the line in 16th position at this, the start of his first full season in MotoGP.
Whilst it wasn't the night that Kawasaki was hoping for, lessons have been learned and injuries will hopefully soon be fully healed, enabling the squad to be on top form at the next round at Jerez, Spain, on 30th March.
"The first half of the race felt good, and I was pretty comfortable running inside the top ten. But then, at about half race distance, the performance of the front tyre went off, and it started sliding in the turns. I had no option but to hold the bike up on my knee, but that put a lot of pressure on my injury. The pain built up very quickly, and by two-thirds distance it was excruciating. If it had just been pain then I could have ridden through it, but in the end I simply ran out of strength in the injured muscle, and I just couldn't maintain my lap times.
It was hard to make it all the way to the end of the race, but although I'm disappointed not to have finished higher, at least I know that the injury wouldn't have been a limiting factor if it hadn't been for the tyre problem. This gives me some confidence going into the next race at Jerez."
"What can I say? Obviously I'm bitterly disappointed with my result today, because I'm not here to finish at the back of the field. I was suffering with the same problems I had in practice and qualifying and I still didn't feel totally comfortable on the bike. At around half race distance I started to feel more confident, and in some sections of the circuit I was much faster than Guintoli and Elias, who were in front of me. Through the final section I could get right alongside them, but I just didn't have enough speed to pass. And then, as soon as we hit the straight, they cleared off. This has been a weekend to forget, but I need to put it behind me now and focus on the next race at Jerez."
"It's been a difficult weekend for us, as throughout practice we struggled with the track conditions. But then John's fourth fastest time during this evening's warm-up session meant that we went into the race with increased expectations of a good result. Things were looking good, but then John's front tyre went off, and he struggled to compensate due to his groin injury. But even then he didn't give up; I don't think I've ever seen anyone lifted off a bike in so much pain at the end of a race. He's one hard rider. Anthony is obviously disappointed with his performance this weekend, but he needs to avoid the temptation to beat himself up over it, and instead focus on regaining his form for the next race at Jerez. We know he's capable of much more, and I hope he will fulfil his potential properly next time out."