After Assen disrupted John Hopkins' career for the second year in succession, the Stiggy Racing team was left looking for a replacement for the man who had only just joined the team. Hopkins' injury - a dislocated hip with a fractured femur - leaves the American out of racing for at least two, and maybe three rounds.
First of these is magnificent Monza, a jewel of a track set in a huge park on the outskirts of Milan. At that legendary track, another American, Jake Zemke, will ride Hopkins' CBR1000RR. Zemke is the reigning AMA Formula Xtreme champion, a class that has now been replaced by the incomprehensible Daytona Sportbike class in the AMA Pro Racing Championship, and is currently riding for Erion Honda's Daytona Sportbike entry. Zemke previously rode a Honda CBR1000RR for American Honda in the AMA Superbike series alongside Miguel Duhamel.
This will be Zemke's second attempt at Monza. Previously, Zemke was scheduled to substitute for Roberto Rolfo aboard the Althea Honda here in 2008, but last-minute paperwork problems with the AMA prevented Zemke from taking part. This weekend, Zemke will be replacing Hopkins - who replaced Rolfo, though over results, not injury - at the Italian track. Hopkins will also be out at Kyalami in two weeks' time, but that event clashes with the next AMA round at Infineon Raceway, or Sears Point as it was known, ruling Zemke out there. Both Hopkins and Zemke share a manager, a contributing factor to Zemke's taking the ride, but like several American racers, Zemke has indicated an interest in joining the World Superbike paddock permanently.
Regardless of the outcome of this year's 250cc championship, that series' two biggest names will be leaving for greener pastures at the end of the year. Both Alvaro Bautista and Marco Simoncelli intend to step up a class for the 2010 season, though they seem set to go in quite different directions.
The man whose future seems clearest is Alvaro Bautista. For according to the Spanish website Motoworld.es, Bautista is in negotiations to join the Rizla Suzuki team in 2010. Motoworld.es is reporting that representatives for the Spanish 250 star have been talking to Paul Denning about joining Suzuki, as Bautista is determined to sign with a factory team, which leaves Suzuki as the only option. The Hamamatsu factory was given a dispensation from the so-called Rookie Rule which prevents riders eligible for the Rookie Of The Year award from going straight to a factory team, as Suzuki only fields two bikes and does not have a satellite squad which they can use to nurture newcomers to the class.
According to Motoworld.es, Bautista is most likely to be replacing Chris Vermeulen at Suzuki, as the Australian has an offer from another team for next season, though the site does not say which team that might be. Like Bautista, Vermeulen is keen to remain on factory equipment, and at the moment, there are appear to be very few factory seats open.
Infront Motor Sports, the company that runs the World Superbike series, does an outstanding job for the most part of making the races it organizes available online for fans who haven't been able to see the races on TV. Not only do they stream the races live on the internet (though tragically, not to all territories in the world), they also have a Youtube channel where you can find highlights from the recent races.
And the highlights from Assen are worth watching again. Three of the five races of the day were decided on the very last lap, Assen's infamous GT chicane determining the outcome of two of them, so here's the last lap from World Superbike race one, the World Supersport race and the European Superstock 600 race. Enjoy!
Ben Spies' courageous last lap dive up the inside of Noriyuki Haga at the horribly fast Hoge Heide corner:
Eugene Laverty's perfect last corner lunge past Joan Lascorz into the GT chicane:
John Hopkins' luck at Assen went from bad to worse at Assen. After just four laps of free practice at his second ever World Superbike meeting, the American suffered a huge highside and dislocated a hip. Initial reports suggested that no bones had been broken, but once Hopkins had been flown back to California and examined by Dr. Ting, a world-renowned specialist in motorcycle racing injuries, it was found that in addition to the muscle and sinew damage he had suffered in the dislocation, Hopper had also fractured his femur. Dr. Ting operated on Hopkins on Monday, inserting screws to fix the fracture, and the American has already left the hospital to start his recovery at his California home.
Hopkins hopes to be fit again in time for the US round of World Superbikes at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah on May 31st, but that may be a little optimistic. Dr. Ting said that these injuries normally require 6 weeks of convalescence before they are ready to withstand the strains of racing, but Miller is just over four weeks away. However, as Miller is Hopkins' home round, there is a good chance the American will gamble on racing not fully fit.
In further news from the World Superbike paddock, the PSG-1 team has announced that they will not be flying to South Africa and the US for the Kyalami and Miller rounds of the World Superbike series. The San Marino-based team is seriously short of cash, and have already reduced their line up from two to just one rider, dropping Ayrton Badovini earlier this year. PSG-1 is further handicapped by their decision to field Kawasakis: as good a road bike as the ZX-10R is, in race trim it has failed to be competitive, either for private teams such as PSG-1 or for the factory-backed effort of PBM Kawasaki.
With the World Superbike series turning into more and more of a two-horse race, Ben Spies and Noriyuki Haga sharing all of the series wins between them, the Superbike circus headed to Assen with the hope that a few of the British riders could disrupt the Spies and Haga show. The Assen WSBK round is regarded almost as a home race for the Brits, as UK fans cross the North Sea in large numbers to cheer their local heroes on. They arrived in Assen full of hope, as Cal Crutchlow and Eugene Laverty had both taken wins in World Supersport, and Leon Haslam had had one podium and a streak of strong finishes in the previous three rounds.
Haslam had received a huge cheer in the public superpole press conference on Saturday afternoon, after getting a front row start, but the Stiggy Racing rider faced some pretty formidable opposition. Ben Spies had taken a record fourth pole in a row, an incredible feat for a rookie rider facing new tracks on new tires and a new bike, and with 3 wins from 6 races, was proving that he was capable of more than just a fast lap.
As the lights faded in the first race, the Texan took full advantage of his pole position, rocketing into the first corner in the lead, and opening enough of a gap over 2nd place man Max Neukirchner not to have to worry about an immediate attack. Behind Neukirchner, Noriyuki Haga had closed back the gap that he had lost to the German after being held up by Jakub Smrz on the first lap. Once past Smrz, the Xerox Ducati man closed Neukirchner down and got ready to make his move.
In the event, Haga didn't need to attack, as Neukirchner did Haga's work for him. A mistake in the GT chicane saw the Alstare Suzuki rider thrown from his bike, but that is one of the slowest parts of the track, Neukirchner could rejoin, eventually finishing 13th. With nothing between himself and Spies, Haga quickly closed the Yamaha down, and sat on the Texan's tail.
Results of World Superbike Race 2 at Assen:
Full result of the first World Superbike race at Assen:
Below are the results of the three Superpole sessions:
Ben Spies was fastest in the final session of free practice, but crashed heavily in the first corner. He did not return to practice, but is riding in Superpole. Results of the second session of free practice at Assen:
Ben Spies started the second qualifying practice session at the top of the timesheets and looked like staying there, until he got mugged by a gaggle of Ducatis. Noriyuki Haga was the first to assail Spies' supremacy, snatching the lead by just 12/1000ths of a second at the halfway mark. Then with 5 minutes to go, Regis Laconi leapfrogged over Haga to take provisional pole, just 2/100ths of a second ahead of Haga.
Behind Spies, Jakub Smrz and Michel Fabrizio took 4th and 5th respectively, the Czech and the Italian finding some pace at Assen. The Ten Kate Hondas continue to struggle in their home race, Ryuichi Kiyonari the best of the Dutch team's bikes in 6th, while Carlos Checa is in 9th and Johnny Rea in 11th. Rea had a crash in the slow Strubben hairpin, but came away unhurt.
Rea wasn't the only rider to crash: Ruben Xaus severely shortened his BMW, and Tommy Hill ended up taking a scooter ride back to the pits after dumping his Althea Honda. The final grid will be set in the three knockout Superpole sessions, due to be run this afternoon.
Full result of the second session of qualifying practice for World Superbikes at Assen:
Just a few hours after news emerged that Donington Ventures Leisure Limited, the company that operates Britain's Donington Park circuit, was being sued for back rent and the forfeiture of its lease to the track, DVLL has acted to quash rumors that it stood to lose all racing at the circuit. The issue is complex, but if the Wheatcroft family, who own the track, have the lease returned for the non-payment of the GBP 2.47 million they claim they are owed, then DVLL would no longer be allowed to operate the track, and unless a company could be found to take DVLL's place, the World Superbike, MotoGP and British Superbike rounds would be in jeopardy of being canceled.
This evening, Donington Park issued a statement on the website denying that any racing would be canceled, and saying that they expected to be running "business as usual". Significantly, the statement quotes "Donington Park staff" as saying that they would be operating the track normally, and the racing would be going ahead. Normally in cases like this, such a statement would come from the CEO or Managing Director of a company, and so two possibilities exist: The most likely is that CEO Simon Gillett may have felt that a statement from himself may have created legal complications should he have to appear in court to defend the claims against the company; But an alternative - and completely unfounded, it must be said - explanation is that the staff themselves are determined to organize the racing however they can, and no matter what the management does.
It is still too early to say which side of the argument will prevail. But with Bernie Ecclestone making significant noises about withdrawing the Formula One contract from Donington, then all bets would be off, and DVLL's chances of securing an investor to stump up the estimated GPB 100 million it would require to fund the project would seem to be very remote indeed.
Ben Spies is proving to be a very quick learner at Assen, taking provisional pole in the first qualifying session at the Assen round of World Superbikes. Once again it was Max Neukirchner who as fastest for much of the session, though Spies was up to speed much quicker on his second session on the track. Neukirchner eventually ended the session down in 7th spot.
With 15 minutes of the session left, Jakub Smrz leapt to the top of the timesheets, perhaps prompted by rumors of Gregorio Lavilla about to be drafted into the Guandalini Ducati team to replace one of the two riders. Ten Kate continue to struggle at their home round, with Carlos Checa the first Ten Kate Honda down in 4th place. But Noriyuki Haga continues to struggle at Assen, only managing the 12th quickest time. Of course, all this is academic at the moment, as the actual pole will be set during Superpole tomorrow afternoon. But Haga will surely have hoped to have had a better start to the weekend than he got this afternoon.
Full results of World Superbike QP1:
Assen has not been kind to John Hopkins. The last time Hopper visited the Dutch track, a huge crash saw him smash his leg and ruled him out of racing for two races, and the injury left him struggling for form and riding in pain for virtually the rest of the season. To add insult to injury, the American lost his ride for the 2009 season when Kawasaki pulled the plug on its MotoGP operation.
His fortunes looked to have revived after Hopkins found a new home in World Superbikes with the Stiggy Racing team. His first races on the bike were solid, given that he had spent just a few hours on the bike, and was up against a host of riders who were on their third race of the season.
But his revival has been short-lived. After just four laps of the first session of free practice for the World Superbike round at Assen, Hopkins had a huge crash, injuring himself badly enough to be transported to a local hospital. The doctors there found he had suffered a badly dislocated hip, an injury painful enough to rule him out of racing this weekend. The team has not confirmed that he will not be taking part in Sunday's races, but a team spokesperson told MotoGPMatters.com that Hopkins was in so much pain that he is highly unlikely to be taking part.
The silver lining for Hopkins is that he didn't break any bones in the crash. It is as yet unknown whether he will be fit in time for the next round of World Superbikes at Monza on May 8th.
The first session of free practice has just been run for the World Superbike machines, and Ben Spies set the fastest time at his first attempt. He took all session to get to the top, but an impressive session nonetheless. Noriyuki Haga and Max Neukirchner had swapped the top spot prior to Spies taking charge.
The session was red-flagged briefly after about 20 minutes, after John Hopkins went down at Mandeveen. No word yet on the American riders' condition, but he did not take any further part in the proceedings. Assen holds unhappy memories for the American, as it was here that he smashed his leg last year during the MotoGP qualifying session in a huge crash at the blindingly fast Ramshoek corner.
Full results of FP1: