To describe John Hopkins' career since leaving Suzuki as "checkered" would be to indulge in understatement. Hopper left the stability of the Suzuki team for a difficult and painful year with Kawasaki, before the Akashi factory decided to pull out of MotoGP, leaving the American without a ride. Hopkins' next step was to the Stiggy Honda team in World Superbikes, where he had some success before suffering a couple of horrific crashes which put him out of operation for most of the season. Adding insult to injury - painfully literally in the case of Hopper - came the announcement at the end of the 2009 season that Stiggy Racing would be pulling out of racing altogether, leaving Hopkins high and dry once again.
Fortunately, perhaps, for the American, Hopkins could yet have found a ride for 2010. Hopper had earlier been linked with a return to the AMA, but with the US national series in its current disastrous state, this was perceived as being very much the last resort. Yesterday, salvation appears to have come from Italy, with the Italian FB Corse team announcing that they hoped to finalize a deal with Hopkins when he visits Italy for the launch of the team's new three-cylinder MotoGP bike in January 21st.
Hopkins' role will initially be as a test rider, as the FB Corse team have not been entered as a full-time entry for the 2010 MotoGP season, but the squad have said that they hope to run a number of races as a wildcard entry. That hope was encouraged by the new MotoGP regulations issued for 2010 by the Grand Prix Commission, granting a year's grace on the use of pneumatic and hydraulic control systems for all teams which were not entered before the 2010 season. This was understood to be a concession to FB Corse, as the three-cylinder engine - designed by Oral Engineering, originally for BMW's stillborn MotoGP program - uses a hydraulically powered semi-automatic gearbox. The team has already admitted that redesigning the clutch and gearbox would put them well behind schedule, and so this concession will allow them to actually gain race experience while continuing to modify the engine to make it legal for 2011.
The question remains whether this is good or bad news for John Hopkins. The move puts Hopkins into the right paddock, which is undoubtedly why he made the move. On the minus side, however, Hopper has a very poor injury record when competing on inferior machinery. The American suffered injury after injury aboard the Kawasaki MotoGP bike, as he kept pushing beyond the limits of the bike in an attempt to compete with rest of the field. Though the FB Corse project is a fascinating one, it is extremely unlikely to be competitive. If Hopkins can treat the 2010 season as purely developmental year and tame his natural competitiveness, he could be well placed for 2011.