“I didn't expect it to be at this race!”
Hard charging Anthony West showed today at Assen why he was drafted into the Kawasaki Racing Team for the remainder of the 2007 season, as he stormed to an impressive, and hard fought, top ten finish in only his second MotoGP race
aboard Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR.
West, who only joined the team at last week's Donington Park race in the UK, has barely had time to get used to the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR but that didn't stop him finishing the Dutch TT Grand Prix in a superb ninth position.
The ex-250cc and World Supersport rider, with a reputation for being a wet weather maestro, surprised and delighted the team with an exemplary performance at a dry and sunny Circuit van Drenthe. He showed great determination and a tenacity rarely seen in a newcomer to the premier class.
After a patchy start from an otherwise healthy seventh place on the grid, the 25-year-old Australian soon got into the swing of things, eventually finding himself in a four-way battle with Alex Hofmann, Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri. Despite the best efforts of these infinitely more experienced riders to unnerve him, West held his own, dicing with enthusiasm as the riders rode a large proportion of the race in each other's company.
Having found huge confidence in his new machinery and Bridgestone tyres, West never weakened, staying strong in the pack and earning himself more championship points to take his total to 12 after just two races.
Fellow ZX-RR rider, de Puniet, also got off to a bad start but, similarly, began to make great progress as he established his rhythm.
It was disappointing after his front row start, his second of the year, but he soon caught up with Chris Vermeulen, lying in seventh, making a charge towards the front runners.
After some extremely strong and promising early laps, he went to pass the young Australian but they collided and both ended up in the gravel. De Puniet, unable to restart, returned to the pits, out of the race.
It was a massive disappointment to the Frenchman, who's been putting in some great rides lately, especially at Catalunya and Donington, where he managed a fifth and a sixth, respectively. It also continues his bad luck at Assen, after last year's nightmare when a mechanical problem meant he had to start from pit lane.
It's two weeks until the next MotoGP race, at Germany's Sachsenring on 15th July, giving both Kawasaki men plenty of time to reflect on the highs and lows of what transpired to be a thrilling race for the 91,429 fans who gathered to watch it.
"I was nervous on the line and, as soon as I released the clutch, I knew my start wasn't a good one. A lot of people went past and I couldn't quite get it together for the first few laps, but then I found a good rhythm. Hofmann, Checa and Melandri and I formed a bit of a group and we fought for the rest of the race. We were changing positions a lot, holding each other up, everyone trying everything: it was a bit wild at times. It was a great experience and I learned a lot. I'm really glad I could stay with those guys for the rest of the race and that I didn't drop out of the group. I'm really happy: one of my goals was to be in the top ten this year but I didn't expect it to be at this race!"
Randy de Puniet
"I'm disappointed because I got a bad start, losing eight places between the line and the first corner, and I don't know why. I really need to work on it. After that, I passed some riders and got to eighth position, behind Vermeulen. I tried to pass him but the front of my bike hit him and we came off. I'm really sorry for Chris, and disappointed for the team, because it had otherwise been a really good weekend."
"Basically, it was a very good weekend. Randy's been confident in both the wet and the dry the whole time and his starting position was excellent. Anthony also did a great job on Thursday and Friday. Neither of them got off to a good start and then Randy had bad luck with his crash but, from the other side, Anthony rode a fantastic race. It's not often someone impresses me but I must say that today, he did. He's only had a matter of hours on our bike in the dry but he's a fighter: battling with Checa, Hofmann and Melandri. I'm really happy. On the last lap, I still didn't believe he could finish in that position but he did. It was a fantastic job."