Wildcard Hopkins goes from brink of retirement to star at Silverstone

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The Independent Online

The wildcard rider John Hopkins gave Britain's Samsung Crescent Suzuki team pole position in the World Superbike Championship round at Silverstone yesterday, while the reigning champion, Max Biaggi, slumped to his worst qualifying position of the year in 11th place on his factory Aprilia.

The Californian Hopkins, 28, holds second place in the British Superbike series but was given an opportunity to shine on the world stage by his veteran team manager, Jack Valentine.

And the experienced Hopkins, who finished fourth in the 2007 MotoGP world championship before he ran into injury problems, responded by beating the Yamaha rider Eugene Laverty to pole position by just 0.027sec.

"Last year I had doctors telling me that I had to retire," Hopkins said. "However, my team has built an amazing bike for me, and we're looking pretty good for tomorrow onrace tyres."

Laverty, from Northern Ireland, was the best of the regular World Superbike riders, and hopes to build on his fourth place in the points standings in today's two 18-lap races on the 3.66-mile circuit.

London's Leon Camier, 24, put in a searing lap to claim third place on his factory Aprilia, 0.262sec behind Hopkins.

"I had a little bit more in the package but I didn't quite get everything out of it," he said. And he warned: "Everyone is doing a couple of hard laps and then struggling with the tyre. Carlos Checa has a good rhythm and can save the tyre a bit."

Checa, the 40-year-old Spaniard who heads the points table, completes the front row on the twin-cylinder Ducati, which has less power than four-cylinderrivals but nurtures its Pirelli rubber and handles impeccably on Silverstone's sweeping curves.

James Toseland, twice world champion, pluckily fought to a fourth-row start on his BMW in his first race for four months after shattering his right wrist in a crash earlier in the year.