''Our riders need to focus on staying upright''
The Kawasaki Racing Team head for northern Spain this week, hoping to further their MotoGP offensive at the Gran Premi de Catalunya in Montmelo, near Barcelona.
After a few difficult rounds, which have seen both their
riders injured and a disappointing lack of championship points, the aim is to get back on form at a track hugely popular with racers and spectators alike.
Both Randy de Puniet and Olivier Jacque have won races here in the past and they're optimistic they can turn their recent run of bad luck in to something more positive on their ever-evolving Ninja ZX-RR machines. With the recent arrival of new engines revealing increased horsepower, combined with the impressive performance from their Bridgestone rubber in the season so far, the prospects look good for the two Frenchmen.
After 250cc wins at Catalunya in 2003 and 2004, de Puniet will be looking to better his luck here over last year, when he was forced off the track after unwittingly becoming entangled in a pile-up involving Sete Gibernau, Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri, then crashing out again after a restart. Although fully recovered from the shoulder injury he sustained at Le Mans, de Puniet was left with an injured left knee after his Mugello crash less than one week ago. While the injury is not causing the 26-year-old Frenchman any pain, accumulation of fluid around the joint means that he arrived in Catalunya with a knee the size of a football! De Puniet will visit the Clinica Mobile to have the excess fluid drained from the knee ahead of the first free practice session on Friday.
The Kawasaki pilot's goal this weekend is clear; he must finish the race and, if possible, improve on his career best eighth place finishes in Istanbul and China.
Jacque, meanwhile, reached the top of the podium here, also in the 250cc world championship, in 2000 and, as he regains strength in his left arm, which was badly injured in Shanghai, he will be hoping for a fine performance on his MotoGP machine. Against the odds, Olivier succeeded in completing a hard race at Mugello last weekend and he's feeling positive he can improve on his current four championship points.
As a mark of respect for Jan de Groot, Kawasaki's Grand Prix motocross team manager who passed away on Monday, Kawasaki Racing Team riders, de Puniet and Jacque, will run black numbers on their Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP Machines at this weekend's Gran Premi de Catalunya.
Randy de Puniet
"I have really good memories of Montmeló. I won there twice in 250cc, achieving my first victory in a Grand Prix there in 2003, then winning again in 2004, and I've always enjoyed riding the circuit. I like the entire track but especially the last section: the Stadium curve and the last two corners in particular because they are fast and thrilling to ride. Everybody remembers last year's first corner massacre and, even though I was among the riders who crashed, I came out of it well as I was able to restart the race on my second bike. I got as far as ninth position but, as I pushed to overtake Tamada, I crashed again. Our main problem there last year was the lack of top speed but that is not an issue with the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR. Not only is Catalunya one of my favourite tracks but also I'm really looking forward to getting there and making up for my crashes in the last two races. My shoulder isn't giving me problems any more and the knee I hurt in Mugello will be alright in a couple of days. I'll be fully fit by the time I jump on the bike and I'm sure we will run a good race there. That's what I'll be working for: to give my crew and the whole team a good reason to be proud of me."
"It was good to assess my physical condition by going the full distance during a dry race at Mugello and the only thing I suffered from was lack of strength. I will keep working on that in preparation for the GP in Barcelona and, even though I don't have much time, I'm sure I'll feel a huge difference. Montmeló is less physically demanding than Mugello because it is a fast and fluid track, without too much hard-braking, and there's plenty of time to rest in between the technical parts. In theory, it is also well suited to the Ninja ZX-RR: the most important thing here is to have a powerful bike with good top speed, and the new engine Kawasaki introduced in Italy proved to be a definite step forward. And having a good-handling bike is important for La Caixa and the Stadium curves. How the tyres perform is going to be the biggest issue. Last year, Bridgestone struggled a bit in Montmeló but, looking at the Japanese tyres' performance so far this year, I'm confident about this weekend's race."
“Our target for both riders this weekend is quite clear; they must stay on the bike, avoid crashing and finish the race. Between them Randy and Olivier have only managed six finishes out of a possible twelve so far this season; as a factory team, this is not the position we expected to be in at this point in the season. Now our riders need to focus on staying upright and giving their current injuries a chance to heal; only then can we start thinking about achieving the results we know our new Ninja ZX-RR is capable of. Both riders will ride with black numbers this weekend in memory of Jan de Groot, who sadly passed away earlier this week. Jan was a well known and well respected figure in the Motocross Grand Prix paddock and his presence will be sorely missed by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him or working with him. We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Jan's family and friends at this difficult time."