John Hopkins started his MotoGP™ career at just 18-years-old. Even to this day, he is the most successful teenager in the MotoGP™ era. And despite being a self-professed “big party guy”, Hopkins went from doing laps of the desert as a kid with his dad to a number of MotoGP™ podiums, coming fourth overall in 2007.
Riding for the factory Suzuki outfit, he says the arrival of Chris Vermeulen to the team in 2006 played a big role in that. The Australian, eleven months the senior, suddenly began challenging him in the fight to call themselves the number one rider at the Hamamatsu factory.
“When Chris Vermeulen stepped into the team, obviously then I had a rider who wasn’t in the twilight of his career,” said the four-time MotoGP™ podium finisher on the departure of his previous teammate Kenny Roberts Jr.
“I had a rider who was just as equally trying to get the best results he could and improve his career just as I was. So, I obviously had to step up my game and it put me on my toes. It was basically when Chris Vermeulen came to the team and I was forced to give everything.”
“When Chris came to the team, I had to give it that much more to stay ahead of him and be able to beat him. I just had to give it that much more training and focus. But I still carried on partying!”
Hopkins says the blood, sweats and tears put into beating Vermeulen before a Grand Prix didn’t stop him from relaxing after the race: “I was huge into partying on Sunday nights throughout my MotoGP career (..), obviously I used to put in the work and training during the weeks, but I was a big party guy on Sunday nights.
“That was just part of me, my life, letting my hair down at the end of the weekend. That was what helped me release, after all the tension and everything you put into the race weekend – whether the result was good or bad – it was just a way to let my hair down."
The Californian was one of the biggest characters in the MotoGP™ paddock for a number of years. But, on reflection, Hopkins says his all-action style on-track and off meant he struggled to do anything in half measures - something borne out as partying changed into something else. The Californian says his drinking got to the point where it was “out of control”.
“Unfortunately, with me…anything in my life I take to the maximum. I am wide open, no matter what I do. I give it everything I have no matter what I do, and unfortunately that also came to drinking.
“I constantly kept riding with injuries and injured myself further. And unfortunately, in my personal life I was then not drinking to party and let my hair down, I was going through a tough time personally and mentally. And I carried on drinking and was drinking pain away more than just letting my hair down, and my drinking then started to get out of control.”
Hopkins openly and honestly discusses his successful fight against addiction and alcoholism, his six-year career in the premier class and much more as he sits down with hosts Fran Wyld and Matt Dunn in the very latest MotoGP™ podcast, which is available on Spotify now!
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