John Hopkins is confident of challenging for victory in Sunday's BSB races at Knockhill after qualifying second after a rain-affected weekend so far.
Saturday's qualifying session was run in mixed conditions but Hopkins stayed out of trouble while his championship rival Shane Byrne crashed out, to secure a place on the front row.
The Samsung Crescent Racing rider felt he could, and maybe should, have been on pole but is mindful that the points are handed out on race day, and feels his GSX-R1000 is set-up nicely whatever the weather brings.
“We’re very well placed for tomorrow’s races. We’ve had an all-wet weekend so far, but my bike has been competitive throughout and with the adjustments my crew chief and mechanics have been making, the bike has only become better, finding more grip, and making better acceleration.”
“The qualifying sessions were very difficult with a mix of wet and dry and any time you have to push to the limit in these conditions, it’s going to be difficult. I played safe in the earlier sessions by staying with wet tyres when others went for intermediates and for me that paid off. I was very close to getting Pole in that final session but I had Tommy Hill in my tow and he was able to use that to his advantage, stealing the Pole.
“But I’m happy. We’re front row and we’ve good settings for the wet and – because we tested here two weeks ago – the dry. We’re in really good shape. I’m looking forward to the races.”
Teammate Jon Kirkham will line up just behind in fifth but admitted he was forced to bite his nails before his place in Q3 was confirmed after an incident packed session.
“That was a fraught qualifier. I rode Q1 on wets setting seventh fastest early on but came in as it dried, looking to change tyres, then saw my time plummeting down the table as others took advantage of the drying track. With a red-flag incident as well, I literally squeaked through. So I started Q2 on intermediates, but couldn’t get a clear quick lap in, then we got a red flag when I was in 14th. Fortunately I got out again and made seventh fastest. In Q3 I was struggling for rear grip and the slides meant I was again around seventh, but I managed a clean last lap and pulled up to fifth. Much happier!”
“So we’ll be looking to try one more setting tomorrow morning in warm-up to see if we can’t improve rear grip. But I’m feeling comfortable with the set-up and I’m hoping I can convert this into two top-fives come tomorrow.”
Team manager Jack Valentine was delighted with the team's best combined qualifying result of the season, and believes they will be strong tomorrow, although the weather remains unpredictable.
“We've had another good build up to the races. This is Hopper’s third front row qualifier – all on tracks he’s never raced before. That’s an amazing feat. He had a good practice build-up except for a slight snag in free practice three. So the bike and rider are 100% ready – as Hopper demonstrated in qualifying.
“JK has done a brilliant job in qualifying in P5, barely 0.1-seconds off the front row. He struggled with tyre choices in the first two sessions but got his head down in Q3. To grab P5 was excellent and sets him up for some good performances tomorrow.
“We’re told we’re over the worst of the weather, but that could make for a bit of a lottery tomorrow if we’ve got a drying track; we’d almost prefer for it to stay all wet. But saying that, our test here a fortnight ago gave us a chance to work on dry settings and we set some good times in that test, so we’re confident we’ve covered all the angles.”