Rizla Suzuki MotoGP has secured its third successive front row start thanks to a breathtaking last lap by John Hopkins in Le Mans today.


Hopkins will start in third place for tomorrow’s Alice Grand Prix de France and will be looking to get away to a similar start to last week’s race, where he eventually scored his best ever finish. He qualified only 0.646 seconds behind pole-setter Dani Pedrosa after this afternoon’s hour long session. His time of 1’34.636 was even more amazing as it was the third lap on his Bridgestone qualifying tyre – usually a qualifier is only designed to perform at its maximum level for one lap.


This afternoon’s session was held in dry, but very windy conditions, which was in complete contrast to this morning’s final free practice. Heavy overnight showers left the track very wet but Hopkins and team-mate Chris Vermeulen coped with the circumstances well and both topped the time sheets at some points of the session.


Vermeulen continued to impress on his first visit to Le Mans and the rookie Australian will start tomorrow’s race from the fourth row of the grid. His position doesn’t do justice to fact that before Thursday he had never even seen the track.


Tomorrow’s 28-lap race is round five of the 2006 MotoGP World Championship and the lights will change to go at 14.00hrs local time (12.00hrs GMT).


John Hopkins:

“What can I say, I’m happy to be on the front row but not exactly happy with the way it went on the qualifiers. Dani did a good job but I think if we had had a proper go at him we could have got near him or even on pole. It was our goal to start from the front row so that we can get with the lead group at the start of the race. We have a pretty good race set-up and once again the crew has worked really hard. The Bridgestones and the Suzuki have come together pretty well on this track, so wet or dry we need to chase that first podium and perform as well as we possibly can.”


Chris Vermeulen:

“The qualifying session was quite good for us, we have made a lot of changes to the bike. This morning was wet and I could have done with a bit more dry track time to get the best set-up. The team has worked really well and the bike is getting better and better all the time. We have definitely got a direction to head in and we will try a few more things in tomorrow’s warm-up. Hopefully in the race we’ll improve on that 12th position. Congratulations to John and the whole Rizla Suzuki team on another front row start and a great performance.”



Paul Denning – Team Manager:

“The performances in Turkey and China were clearly steps in the right direction and that has continued this weekend in Le Mans. Durability and performance of the GSV-R has been at a level that has allowed both riders to concentrate on their own abilities and on getting the bike set-up the best it can be.

“Chris is a bit disappointed with 12th but he shouldn’t be. The guys around him have done hundreds of laps here and until this week he had never even seen the circuit. To be in 12th and relatively close to the front runners is a fantastic performance. If it’s wet tomorrow I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris turn that position into a very competitive finish.

“John has given another sterling display and despite getting three laps out of his qualifying tyre – when realistically their best performance is on the first lap – he kept his head down and improved enough to stick the Rizla Suzuki on the front row. His performance level continues to grow every time he gets on the bike and whilst keeping things competitive for 28-laps is never easy, I think he is in a strong position to get a good result tomorrow.”


Alice Grand Prix de France Qualifying Practice Classification:

1. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1’33.990: 2. Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) +0.211: 3. JOHN HOPKINS (RIZLA SUZUKI MOTOGP) +0.646: 12. CHRIS VERMEULEN (RIZLA SUZUKI MOTOGP) +1.715:



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