John Hopkins' love affair with Oulton Park continued as he set the pace on the opening day of the British Superbike meeting in Cheshire. The American claimed his very first BSB victory here at the beginning of May and he has already established himself as the man to beat this time around.
The Samsung Crescent Suzuki rider's late flyer gave him three tenths of a second in hand over Tommy Hill who took pole position for the Bank Holiday meeting before crashing and injuring his shoulder in morning warm-up.
But ominously for his rivals, pacesetter Hopkins revealed that he was already happier with the GSX-R1000 than he was when he won here two months ago.
“We're faster now than we were two months ago”, he said, adding: “I am pretty comfortable and if the need arises we can jump forwards. I enjoy riding here. It is really special to me as I took my first win in 11 years of racing here but now we have to concentrate on more of that to keep up the title challenge.”
Oulton Park has contrasting memories for Hill though, who effectively lost the 2010 championship after crashing at Lodge corner during last year's showdown and his painful spill earlier this year has forced him to play catch-up in this year's title race. But speaking on Friday, the Swan Yamaha man was undeterred by his track record at Oulton Park.
“If I worried about that, I would be slowing myself down, and you don't do that, do you? I have to make amends and that means ensuring that I am on the podium in these races.”
The second Swan Yamaha was fourth in the shape of Michael Laverty with Gary Mason splitting them for MSS Colchester Kawasaki. Josh Brookes climbed into the top six in the title race for the first time this year at Snetterton and the Australian was in good form again on Friday, going fifth, ahead of points leader Shane 'Shakey' Byrne.
Michael Rutter was seventh fastest ahead of the returning James Ellison who is riding the Sorrymate.com Honda while the World Supersport Championship takes a two week break.
Ryuichi Kiyonari will be eyeing a strong weekend after winning the dramatic second race at Snetterton. The reigning champion also won at Oulton Park in May but wasn't firing on all cylinders on Friday, finishing ninth ahead of Ian Lowry.
Lowry's Buildbase BMW team had a mixed day though as John Laverty crashed in the morning and will sit the rest of the weekend out with shoulder and neck injuries.