When John Hopkins announced that he would be joining the Stiggy Racing Honda team, it was generally assumed that this would mean the American would be riding alongside the existing riders, Leon Haslam and Roberto Rolfo. Hopper, it was thought, would bring enough money along in sponsorship to allow the team to run a third bike, allowing the team to expand.
It seems we were wrong. Today, Rolfo announced on his website that he would be leaving Stiggy Racing, due to "reasons beyond his control." Those reasons, the Stiggy team made clear, were to do with sponsorship issues: Clearly, John Hopkins had established sponsorship in place, and offered funds which Roberto Rolfo simply couldn't match.
Added to this were health worries over Rolfo's condition - the Italian broke a shoulder at the end of last year, and was advised by doctors to have surgery to correct the problem, advice he chose to ignore, preferring to go racing in 2009 - though Rolfo himself was adamant that these had not played any part in the move. "This has nothing to do with my physical condition, which is perfect at the moment," Rolfo stated.
But if Rolfo's condition was "perfect", his results were anything but. The Italian had scored just three points from the four races so far this season, and was yet to look like posing a challenge for the podium. The move leaves Rolfo without a ride, and with little prospect of one for 2009.
Hopkins arrival at Stiggy Honda, and Rolfo's departure, may have been messy, and rather uncomfortable for all parties concerned, but it can hardly have come as a surprise. The World Superbike field may be healthy with some 31 entries, but the financial crisis has hardly left the field untouched. Even in the relatively affordable world of WSBK, if you can afford to pay the piper, then you get to pay the tune. From Valencia onwards, it's John Hopkins, rather than Roby Rolfo, calling the shots.