PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- John Hopkins needed to beat arch rival Damon Buckmaster in the final Lockhart Phillips Formula Xtreme race of the season Saturday, Sept. 29, at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). He did just that, barely. Hopkins was...
PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- John Hopkins needed to beat arch rival Damon Buckmaster in the final Lockhart Phillips Formula Xtreme race of the season Saturday, Sept. 29, at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). He did just that, barely. Hopkins was fourth at VIR and Buckmaster fifth. That's all it took for Hopkins to win the 2001 Formula Xtreme title by a single point.
After eight rounds Hopkins and Buckmaster were all tied up in the series standings. It was a simple equation -- whoever finished ahead at VIR would be crowned the new Formula Xtreme champion. Hopkins earned the early advantage by qualifying second. He would start on the front row, while Buckmaster would start on row two after qualifying sixth. In the race Hopkins took the early lead, then got into a somewhat tense fracas with Aussie Aaron Gobert for the top spot. Gobert took over on lap five and would go on to win his first AMA race. Hopkins began to slow, while at the same time Buckmaster began to surge. What looked like a sure thing for Hopkins became a nail-biter for his Valvoline EMGO Suzuki squad.
As it turned out Hopkins' bike had a possible steering head malfunction and the bike became ill-handling. In the end Hopkins preserved a fourth-place finish, while Buckmaster, having handling problems as well with his Yamaha, managed only to get close to Hopkins.
A happy Hopkins assessed his season after the race. "I had that crash the first race of the season, so I had to make up from there. I've just been climbing all the way back up to the top. And then unfortunately for Damon, fortunately for me, he had a bike problem at Pike's Peak, so that tied us up. And then we came here and it was a head-to-head competition. This is great. I'm just kind of taking it all in. I'm really happy. I can't say enough about the team. It's my last race for them, and they deserve this championship just as much as I do, for sure. The team's awesome."
It was the second-straight AMA national championship for the 18-year-old Hopkins, who hails from Ramona, Calif. Last year Hopkins won the 750 SuperSport title in his first full season on the circuit. Remarkable, it was Buckmaster who Hopkins beat by just three points in the 750 series. Hopkins started the 2001 Formula Xtreme Series inauspiciously after crashing in the season opener. He then went on to turn in strong mid-season performances; taking six consecutive podium finishes including victories at Road Atlanta and Loudon.
The victory marked the first Formula Xtreme championship for Suzuki -- the company's GSXR1000 winning the series in its debut season. Hopkins' plans for next season are not set, although he said at VIR that he is close to signing with the Red Bull Yamaha team to race in the World Championship 500cc Grand Prix Series.
- AMA Pro Racing-