As Kawasaki turn on the gas
Randy de Puniet and Anthony West will start tomorrow's German Grand Prix from fourth and 12th positions on the grid, respectively, after a blistering qualifying session at the Sachsenring.
But it wasn't all plain sailing. While de Puniet
put in a very solid performance throughout, perfecting his set up whilst maintaining a positive spot near the top of the timesheets, he crashed out right at the end of the session. It was a big disappointment to the 26-year-old Frenchman who, at the first two splits, looked as if he was about to steal pole position from eventual front man, Casey Stoner. But the demons at turn six got him and he lost control of his Ninja ZX-RR in a nasty tumble which ended with the bike landing on top of him.
However, his earlier, strong lap time was enough to secure him the second row spot, from where he will begin the 30-lap race tomorrow afternoon. With a time of 1'22.539, sandwiched between Marco Melandri and John Hopkins and recording a top speed of 277.136mph, he came in an extremely modest 0.155 seconds behind Stoner,
Meanwhile, Anthony West enjoyed more time getting used to running on qualifying tyres in (for a change) the dry, having not had the chance to familiarise himself with them since his first MotoGP session at Donington three weeks ago due to bad weather at Assen. His 12th position was gained by a time of 1'23.056, a mere 0.672 seconds behind the pole sitter: impressive stuff in only his third premier class weekend.
He's run very well here on 250cc bikes in the past and, with the persistent progress he's making with the MotoGP bike, things are looking up for the 25-year old Australian. Indeed, a good win tomorrow would prove a welcome early birthday present for West, who celebrates his 26th next Tuesday.
This morning's practice session (like the afternoon's qualifying) was run on a dry track under clear skies and a hot sun. As the circuit basked in 28° heat, de Puniet and West continued to work on their set up for tomorrow's 30 lap race, which, according to weather forecasters, will take place in even warmer temperatures. Both riders are now feeling positive after tweaking their 800cc Ninjas to suit the demands of themselves and the Sachsenring's unforgiving layout. They also feel they have found the right Bridgestone rubber to see them around the circuit's rolling, twisty landscape.
With only three of the 19 riders in today's session recording times over a second off the front runners, Sunday's event looks like it's going to be a nail-biting one. The Kawasaki Racing Team know they've got the ability to put in some superb lap times and add some panache to the show in front of the capacity crowd expected to descend on the circuit.
Randy de Puniet
"On the last lap, I pushed very hard in T1 and T2 because normally they're not my strongest parts of the track. By the end of T2 I was faster than pole position but, when I went in to turn six, I was going too fast and crashed but I'm lucky, I've just got some pain in my back and nothing's broken. My grid position isn't so bad but today I could have got pole. Still, I think my bike is ready for tomorrow, I managed consistent lap times today and yesterday's chatter is pretty much gone. We have a good set up and, if I can get a decent start, I feel we can do well."
“Today was my first really good go on the qualifying tyres and I was surprised how quickly I was able to ride on the first set. We then put the second set on and, to be honest, I could have gone faster but I'm still trying to get used to the feel of them. On the last set, I was going really well, with the fastest overall times in the first two splits, but then I completely stuffed up the last corner. Somehow, I ended up in third gear whereas I usually take it in second: big mistake. Our overall set up's not too bad, there's still a bit of a problem with some vibration, but other than that the bike's feeling great and should be good for the race. I'm really happy I've had time to try different things out here with the bike for a few days in the dry and yeah, I'm very pleased with my position."
"We started the day concentrating on the rear set up, and finding a good race tyre, and now we're pretty happy and ready for tomorrow. We tried different qualifying tyres and Randy was happiest with the first set; even after making a small mistake, he improved his lap time. Just before the end of the session, he was going very quickly but went in to turn six a bit too fast. Hoping to avoid a crash, he ran in to the gravel but he couldn't scrub the speed off in time and had to lay it down before he ran in to the fence. The bike hit him in the back but, fortunately, he's ok. We've got a good set up and we're feeling positive. From where we are on grid, if we manage an acceptable start, we can secure a good result."