In the points on British Superbike debut
Updated: Jul 14
Luke’s BSB debut - a weekend to remember and thankfully, in the end, it was for all the right reasons.
If you watched the racing on Eurosport and heard Jamie Whitham and Jack Burnicle congratulating Luke for a great ride in race three and for picking up points in his first meeting you’d think the weekend had been a piece of cake. Well, it wasn’t. As ever with Luke Hopkins and Team Hopkins Racing there were a few twists and turns along the way and the weekend almost ended before it had really got going but let’s cut to the chase; Luke arrived in BSB this weekend in some style! So, are you ready for the full story? Well go grab a cup of tea (or something stronger!) and sit down for five minutes, because honestly, it was a rollercoaster of a weekend with a Hollywood finish.
As many of you will know, the whole BSB thing came about very late for Luke and the Hopkins clan but it was too good an opportunity to miss for Luke at this stage in his career. Luke and his dad have bust their arses getting the bike ready in less than four weeks and although they had a solid base setting for the Blade, the control electronics required in BSB are a whole new ball game both for Luke and especially for dad, Gareth, who’s had to build maps almost from scratch. With a couple of tests under his belt, Luke decided to race the BSB spec bike at the Croft No Limits round where he frankly smoked everybody taking three wins and the fastest lap for good measure. However, we all know that BSB is on a different level so Luke and the team were under no illusions that his first BSB meeting was going to be a baptism of fire. Going in to the weekend, Luke was understandably apprehensive. The riders briefing on Thursday evening really brought it home to him that this was all for real. He is now in the company of the fastest superbike riders in the UK!
Friday morning dawned cool but dry. It looked like we were going to be spared the rain that had been forecast but 45 minutes before Luke’s first ever BSB practice session it started to rain. This was the first spanner in the works. It was a frantic rush to put the bike on to wet settings but a few minutes in to the session Luke rolled out on to the track for his BSB debut. Phew….relax. Then on his third flying lap, Luke lost the front braking for the fast approach in to the final corner and went down. He was fine, but the bike barrel rolled in the gravel and went end over end. When the bike came back after the session it looked a mess but when it was stripped down things got a whole lot worse. The crash had bent both forks, the frame, swing arm, wheels and sub-frame. The Motec dash took a hit too. This wasn’t just a spanner in the works, this was a jack hammer blow. For a second it looked like Luke’s weekend could be over before it had really got started and he was understandably gutted. With no spare frame or forks, Gareth made one last roll of the dice and called Clive at Padgetts to see if they had the parts needed to rebuild the bike. Ten minutes later, one of the team, Gareth Alton, left the circuit in his van to make the five-hour round trip to go and get the parts. The weekend was on a knife edge….
Now let’s be straight, this is a tiny team on a tiny budget. There is no army of mechanics waiting to jump in and sort things out. There’s Luke, dad Gareth, mum Zarra, Luke’s girlfriend, Hannah, apprentice mechanic Dan (his first race weekend too!), Tony, Gareth Alton and me. From that point on it was all hands to the pumps to strip the bike. Luke directed proceedings and by 6.30 PM when Gareth Alton rolled back in to the paddock there was just an engine sitting on the floor waiting for all the new chassis parts to be fitted around it. The team worked well in to the night to re-build the bike but it was gone 2.00 AM when they finally had a race worthy bike again. It had been a monumental effort especially from Gareth, Zarra, Hannah and Dan who all worked in to the wee small hours. A huge thanks must go out to Clive Padgett for sorting out all the parts; without him the weekend would have been over.
Saturday free practice three was Luke’s only chance to set up what was effectively a brand-new bike including the new forks which he hadn’t used before. He ended up qualifying 26th out of 28 riders with a 1:39.3 and to be honest he looked frustrated when he came back in. Those of you that know Luke will testify to the fact that he’s a quiet, self-effacing 19 year old and he was beating himself up that he’d been around Oulton quicker on the stock bike earlier this year. From this point on we all just wanted Luke to have a solid, safe, re-building sort of weekend and quite frankly the results were irrelevant. But this is Luke we’re talking about, and when he puts his helmet on…well, he gives it his absolute all.
Race one on Saturday went much better than anyone could have hoped. It was attritional with several fallers but Luke kept it shiny side up and brought the bike home in a hugely respectable 17th place, ahead of Dan Linfoot on the TAG Honda! He’d spent the race in the company of experienced riders who’ve been in BSB 2-3 years or more and he’d looked every bit at home. More importantly, he was 1.5 seconds faster than in qualifying and knocking on the door of an Oulton Park personal best. There was a palpable sense of relief in the awning and Luke and Gareth now had some data to look at to help them improve the bike for Sunday.
After a few bike changes overnight, Luke went in to the two Sunday races with a lot more confidence. Race two was solid. Luke finished 20th but he’d been held up at the start when Ryo Mizuno fell in front of him on lap one and he had to take avoiding action. He spent the race dicing with the likes of Josh Owens and Dean Harrison, hugely experienced riders with support from much bigger teams. Moreover, he smashed his personal best time around Oulton with a 1:37.2. His head was up and he looked completely at home in what is generally regarded as the most competitive and successful domestic superbike championship in the world. And so to race three….
Race three was frankly amazing. Luke got a decent start and settled in to a scrap with Dean Harrison and Josh Owens matching them wheel for wheel. Having got through this scrap, Luke ended up in 17th with a sizeable gap to Storm Stacey, Brad Jones and Dan Linfoot ahead. With around 6 laps to go it looked like he was going to leave with another respectable 17th place…but then something remarkable happened. The gap to Storm Stacey and Brad Jones started coming down fast and within three laps Luke was through in to 15th place and in the points. He was riding the Honda like he’d stolen it, sparks literally flying as he decked out through the fast left at Cascades. With three laps to go he was around 1.5 seconds behind Dan Linfoot. Queue the “Jaws Music”. With two to go Luke was just under a second behind Linfoot when Dan went wide at Cascades and in an instant, Luke was through! He pulled away to finish 14th and take two very well-earned championship points on his BSB debut. He smashed his PB too with a 1:37.02 – less than 2.5 seconds off Tarran McKenzie’s fastest lap. It was emotional. Luke was stoked. The whole team was buzzing. Standing with Luke in parc fermé was very, very special. Luke Hopkins, put your head up and your chest out. You are a BSB rider. A BSB RACER. You should be incredibly proud of your achievements this weekend; it was mega.
If you’ve made it to the end of this “War and Peace” report…. well done. If you’d have told Luke and the team that he’d be leaving Oulton 17th in the championship, level with Dean Harrison and Danny Kent and ahead of Andrew Irwin, Dan Linfoot and both Japanese works Honda riders; well Gareth would have offered to ride round the paddock naked! You know what happened next…… #BSB #hondamotorcycles #oultonpark #HopkinsRacing #superbike #BASGroup #Scuff2New #sarcoidosisuk
Photos and text: Mike Woodward