An impressive performance from the Frenchman
Against all probability, Kawasaki Racing Team rider, Randy de Puniet, finished this afternoon's MotoGP from Catalunya in fifth position: his best ever result in the premier class.
Despite riding with an agonising knee
injury, sustained last week at Mugello, and a shoulder strapped up after an earlier tumble in Le Mans, the 26-year-old Frenchman maintained a monumental pace, keeping many of the series' usual front runners at bay.
After starting from his first ever front row position on a MotoGP grid, he reached the first corner in fifth but lost out to Toni Elias soon after. A few laps in, despite the Spanish Honda Gresini rider trying to correct an error and briefly running in to de Puniet, hitting his handlebar and, ironically, his injured left knee, Randy kept his cool and, re-passing Elias, regained fifth position, which he maintained for the rest of the gruelling 25-lap race.
In front of a crowd of 112,600 fans, Randy amazed everyone by not once giving in to the painful and debilitating swelling in his leg. Furthermore, incredible heat, an aching collarbone and significant problems trying to breathe steadily, similarly failed to detract him from his task. Lap time after lap time proved he was both concentrated and consistent over the full race distance. As he crossed the line, an exhausted but elated Randy celebrated his fantastic achievement with a mammoth wheelie of almost Biaggi-like proportions.
It marks the end of a weekend which has seen the Ninja ZX-RR pilot making consistently fast runs around the circuit at Montmelo, near Barcelona, putting him second only to world championship leader, Casey Stoner, on the free practice combined timesheets and second, again, to seven times world champion, Valentino Rossi, on the grid.
Bearing in mind these two riders claimed first and second positions after today's hard-fought race, it bodes well for the future of both Kawasaki's bike and rider who had, throughout the weekend, proved the ones for them to beat.
Randy's previous best finishes were two eighth places, gained earlier this year in Turkey and China. Today's fifth gained him a further 11 championship points to add to his existing 19, moving him up to 13th on the leaderboard.
After a crash in yesterday's third free practice session, Randy's Kawasaki stable mate, Olivier Jacque, was unable to qualify for today's race. After tests, the 33-year-old Frenchman remains in hospital in Barcelona, under orders to rest after injuring his neck. However, he did not, thankfully, receive any serious injuries after his highside at the circuit's turn five hairpin. His absence from the Gran Premio Cinzano de Catalunya is an undoubted blow to the Kawasaki team, who are keeping a close eye on his progress.
It is two weeks until the next race of the season: the Nickel and Dime British Grand Prix at Donington Park. Traditionally another hugely popular and well-attended round, the team look forward to further improving on their results and showing off the ever-advancing Ninja bikes in front of another loud and passionate crowd.
Randy de Puniet
"Even though now it is difficult for me to breath, I am really happy about what I did today. Not only because I got the best MotoGP result of my career so far, but because I did it regardless of my physical condition. I already knew it was going to be hard and the knee, the shoulder and the heat didn't make it easy. I did a regular start and I lost a couple of positions and one more when Elias passed me after a fright in La Caixa turn. I was sixth after the first lap but I was certain my bike was much better than his. I don't know what happened but a few laps later he touched my knee and my handlebar and, even though it didn't take much to overtook him that made me lose contact with the front guys. I kept pushing and rode a good rhythm but they were definitely faster. We did a good job this weekend and my Ninja ZX-RR and my Bridgestone tyres worked so well today. I was completely focussed on my lap time, my braking points… At the end, Capirossi was coming closer but I managed to maintain a distance and got this fifth position that has a really good taste. I would like to thank everybody, the team, Kawasaki, Bridgestone, for helping me make this race a success. I hope that we can now build on this result."
"I think the only word that can be used to describe Randy's performance today is: impressive. Despite carrying injuries, his pace has been extraordinary all weekend, where he's virtually made second place on the timesheet his own throughout practice and qualifying. The pain is etched on his face every time he takes his helmet off, but he managed to stay consistent throughout the race today, and he wasn't fazed at all by the collision with Elias in the opening laps. Towards the end I thought Capirossi and Vermeulen might catch Randy, but he realised they were closing and kept his rhythm to maintain the gap to the line. In the end, he achieved a career best finish in MotoGP and gave Kawasaki our best result of the team's new era. Randy's result goes someway to compensating for the fact that Olivier was unable to race today after his crash on Saturday. After some disappointments, this weekend couldn't have turned out better for us, and I hope Catalunya will prove to be the turning point in a season that seems to have been plagued by bad luck up until now."