“I'm proud of the riders and the whole team”
Rizla Suzuki MotoGP racers John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen both scored valuable Championship points as they finished in sixth and ninth places respectively during today's Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril.
lucky to escape an early scare when Shinya Nakano ran into his back wheel and flipped over the back of Hopkins' bike – leaving a large tyre mark over the Anglo- Americans back.
Hopkins knuckled down and battled back through the field, eventually moving up to sixth place from a series of passes. The result firmly establishes Hopkins in the top 10 of the MotoGP World Championship, a position he will be looking to improve upon at Valencia in two weeks time.
Vermeulen got off to a good start and was up into eighth place by the third lap. He was involved in a long battle with Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi. Who both passed him when the Australian made a mistake and ran off the track. Having composed himself and re- joined the race, Vermeulen eventually passed Capirossi but was unable to catch Melandri and brought his Rizla Suzuki home in ninth place.
Today's race was watched by 41,000 spectators who were treated to a fantastic spectacle in the overcast conditions. Toni Elias snatched his first ever MotoGP victory on the line by 0.002 seconds from reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi.
The final round of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship is at Valencia on Sunday 29th October, where Rossi and Nicky Hayden will battle it out for the title.
“I didn't get off the line very well. The clutch was dragging a bit and I had to hold the brake on to stop the bike moving and then the red light went out - so that screwed up my start really. From the first lap on I had to be on a mission to make some passes.
I went round the outside of Shinya and a couple of other riders, but unfortunately Shinya hit my back tyre and flipped over – I hope he's alright. After that I stuck my head down and went for it. I made a couple of passes then lost them again and then gained them back. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for other riders, some guys got taken out. It's a shame for them and I really want to say it's a big shame for Nicky to go out that way, he was riding well and if that costs him the championship that will be really unfortunate. We didn't have the best grip we've ever had, but we seemed to make it work and my crew worked their butts off this weekend. Bridgestone also worked hard here to try and give us that bit extra. I can't complain at sixth place, it's well inside the top 10, which is where we want to be. We are looking good for a top 10 place over the season and I really want to get some good points at Valencia and finish the season strong.”
“It was an enjoyable race today. A lot of guys could do some pretty fast lap times this weekend and everybody knew that. I think that's why a few guys went down early on as they were maybe trying too hard. I got baulked a few times at the beginning but I got a good enough start. We used a harder tyre than I normally like to use, to try and make it last to the end of the race, but still the biggest problem was durability. In the middle of the race I ran off into the gravel - as I was passing Capirossi - and lost some time, but I caught him up again and passed him. It was my first time here at Estoril and I've finished inside the top 10 so I'm quite happy with that. We now move to Valencia which is a circuit I've done quite a lot of laps on and I plan to be a lot quicker and stronger for the whole weekend.”
Paul Denning – Team Manager:
“At the risk of sounding patronising, I'm proud of the riders and the whole team today. It's been a difficult weekend with regards to grip and durability, and certainly Bridgestone got a bit unlucky with the new track surface and the conditions just not matching the tyres as well as we hoped they might. Nonetheless John was the quickest Bridgestone rider in both qualifying and the race, and showed that whilst the bike had good grip in the early part of the race he was able to post times as quick as any other rider. It was certainly a well deserved top six finish. “Chris has done a great job on his first visit to Estoril. He was the second Bridgestone rider and he has improved all weekend. It was an extremely exciting Grand Prix all round and I think our guys did a great job to add to the show. We would also like to send our congratulations to Toni Elias on his first MotoGP victory.”