Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki’s John Hopkins won the AMA Formula Xtreme Championship by finishing fourth in the final race of the 2001 season, at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) Saturday, September 29.
His teammate, Grant Lopez, finished second in the race and third in season points.
Young Californian Hopkins, 18, rode a GSX-R1000 prepared and fielded by Team Valvoline EMGO Suzuki. Formula Xtreme allows unlimited modifications and is in effect an open-displacement Superbike class.
The championship is Suzuki’s first in the AMA Formula Xtreme class.
Hopkins was rammed and knocked down in the opening round of the series in May, but came back to the win the second round at Road Atlanta later that same month and started marching forward in the point standings.
Hopkins was second at Road America and won again at Loudon, both races held in June. Hopkins finished second at Laguna Seca, second at Mid-Ohio and second again at Brainerd, in July, took fifth at Pikes Peak in August, and finished fourth in the season finale at Virginia International, on September 29.
The finish at VIR was notable. Hopkins went into the race tied for the championship. He led early-on, then ran a close second until a pinch bolt snapped in his racebike’s upper triple clamp and allowed the adjustment inset to fall out of the triple clamp. With the insert gone, the steering stem could move back-and-forth about 15mm in the upper triple clamp, setting off a severe chatter. Hopkins initially slowed, dropped back to fourth, then somehow figured out how to ride around the problem, sped back up, beat his championship rival by one position, and won the title by one point.
It was a masterful performance by a young prodigy, the latest in the long line of champions developed by the Valvoline EMGO Suzuki team.
Hopkins started road racing at age 9, moving onto the pavement after an early career in motocross, and won his first road racing national championship at age 16. At age 17 he won the AMA 750cc Supersport Championship, becoming the youngest AMA Supersport Champion in history, and now at age 18 he has won his third national title.
“This is great,” said Hopkins after winning the title. “I’m just kind of taking it all in. I’m really happy. I can’t say enough from the team. They deserve this championship just as much as I do, for sure. The team’s awesome. I wanted the championship really bad for myself and for the team. I mean, because of how hard they work. (Team owner) John Ulrich gave me an opportunity, and I’m just trying to shine for him. It’s been great. I just want to keep progressing from here.”
Hopkins’ teammate, Grant Lopez, who rode most of the season fighting the effects of a dislocated shoulder suffered at Road Atlanta in May, finished third in the championship on another Valvoline EMGO Suzuki GSX-R1000.