Catalunya : Kawasaki – Day Two
Kawasaki Racing Team rider, Randy de Puniet, will start tomorrow's MotoGP race in Catalunya, the seventh of the season, from the first row of the grid. However, in a case of mixed fortunes for the squad, his teammate, Olivier Jacque, was unable
to qualify due to a crash in practice.
De Puniet started the day by putting in a heroic performance during this morning's third free practice session, riding as if his massively swollen left knee, caused by a crash last week at Mugello, was nothing more than a minor hindrance. Cutting his previous best time around the circuit by more than a second, Randy completed the preparatory laps, coming second only to current world championship leader, Casey Stoner, on combined times.
However, the Frenchman, riding the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR, went on to raise yet more eyebrows in an astonishing show of bravery during the afternoon's qualifying session. De Puniet shot to the top of the timesheet, with a time of 1'41.901. So impressive was his lap, he remained on provisional pole for a considerable period of the frantic session. Indeed, it took seven times world champion, Valentino Rossi, breaking the circuit record of 1'41.855, to knock the Kawasaki pilot into second place, where he remained despite the best efforts of his fellow racers to dislodge him. Even then, the Italian's advantage over Randy remained at just 0.061 seconds.
His second position spot makes Randy the top Bridgestone rider on the grid, reflecting the team's ongoing, and unquestionably positive, working partnership with the tyre manufacturer.
It is also Randy's best ever starting position in MotoGP: quite something, taking into account he's riding in some pain and with considerable discomfort.
But it isn't all smiles down at the Kawasaki pit garage. Number 19 rider, Olivier Jacque, who was only just recovering from a fall in Shanghai last month, crashed again in free practice. The 33-year-old Frenchman highsided on turn five of the circuit, a slow hairpin corner, and was put into a neck brace before being carried off on a stretcher. After a check up at the paddock's Clinica Mobile, Jacque was taken to a nearby hospital in Barcelona for further evaluation. As a result, he was unable to qualify for tomorrow's race.
It's a hugely frustrating situation for both rider and team as the former 250cc world champion has struggled to find his form during the season so far.
Sweltering weather and a huge crowd are expected at the popular Catalan circuit for the 25-lap race tomorrow. Whether or not Randy will be able to maintain his pace for the 188.2 km distance remains to be seen but the team are delighted to see the ZX-RR up there on the first row, where it belongs.
Randy de Puniet
“It is a great feeling to be on the front row! Yesterday we struggled a little bit, but my crew did a great job in the evening and this morning, which paid off already this morning with second position in the third free practice. We worked on the suspension set up and the chassis as well as making some adjustments in the mapping and we solved yesterday's problem with the rear grip. This morning I tried as well a harder rear tyre option and, even though its performance dropped after a few laps, I am confident to use it for the race. My knee was really painful and we decided to delay my qualifying practice start for about 15 minutes. I went out first with the race tyre option to confirm it and then I tried the first qualifying tyre. I did a great effort with it and pushed as much as I could. I knew that physically I wouldn't have many chances to get the most of the three sets, as it was. I am exhausted right now because in qualifying you need to give it all in just one lap. My main problem is to have to stop and go and not when I am riding. Tomorrow's race is going to be hard but I am sure that after a couple of laps, when I will get the rhythm, everything is going to be fine."
“Yesterday we said that we were just expecting our riders to do their best and, honestly, we were not expecting this result. But Randy is a professional rider and today he definitely proved it. He showed a really good performance and concentration today getting his very first front row start in MotoGP. But this means even more considering his physical condition. He made a huge effort and did an amazing flying lap. It was a pity to lose the pole position by only 0.061 seconds, but considering our expectations, we are delighted. As well as his qualifying position, we are also satisfied with today's practice performance as we improved a lot the set up of the bike compared with yesterday. The balance and engine management are much better now and the bike is more effective in the high-speed corners, helping out too with the race tyre's consistency. We already know that the race is going to be difficult for Randy, though it would be good to see him in the group making a consistent race."
"It's certainly been an up and down few weeks for us. We had a bad weekend in Mugello last week, and the prospects for this weekend weren't, if I'm honest, looking much better. We could see Randy was suffering with his injured knee, despite the fact that he's not complained once about what must be causing him some pain on the bike. But then he goes and puts in a fantastic lap this afternoon to take his first front row start in MotoGP, missing out on pole by the narrowest of margins. Watching him ride that lap, and knowing his condition, was an emotional experience. A front row start is great for Randy's confidence ahead of what promises to be a hard race for him. But, it's also good for the team; as this is the first front row start since the team was brought in house in November. Unfortunately, Olivier crashed this morning and took a big knock on the head, which required a trip to the circuit medical centre, where medical staff sent him to hospital in Barcelona for x-rays. We are now awaiting the results and should have more news shortly."