After a mixed result at last week's German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring, the Kawasaki Racing Team are preparing for the 11th round of the MotoGP world championship at Laguna Seca this Sunday in what will be a major event for the squad.
Three 800cc Ninja
ZX-RR bikes will be on the grid this weekend as American Kawasaki AMA Superbike and Supersport racer, Roger Lee Hayden, joins Randy de Puniet and Anthony West for the Californian showdown.
The Laguna circuit is a complex amalgamation of twists and turns, with seven left and four right hand curves, coupled with some considerable climbs and drops, the most famous of which is the notorious Corkscrew: a sharp, steep and winding downhill corner, a true test of mettle for any Grand Prix rider. It all makes for a magnificent spectacle and the round is hugely popular with American crowds who come to party and support their numerous, home-grown heroes on the grid.
De Puniet described his race here last year, his first ever at the circuit, as the hardest of his life as a blistering heat wave affected riders and track alike. It was so hot the recently laid track surface started to melt and the AMA support races were postponed. However, the Frenchman managed twelfth place, despite the sweltering conditions, and hopes to build on that experience this weekend.
West, having come from the 250cc world championship, is a newcomer to Laguna Seca and is relishing the opportunity to learn the track and see what the Ninja is capable of around its 3.61km, or 2.243 mile, length.
After making excellent progress since joining the team in June, the 26-year-old Australian hopes to add to his tally of 20 championship points, accumulated since the British Grand Prix at Donington Park.
Meanwhile, Kawasaki's MotoGP team welcome American Hayden to their ranks this weekend. Younger brother of current world champion, Nicky, Roger Lee has valuable experience and knowledge of Laguna and, having tested the ZX-RR in Japan earlier this month, is looking forward to seeing what he can do on it in Sunday's race. It will be a tough number for Hayden, who will also compete in the AMA Supersport race on the same day, but no doubt he will enjoy plenty of support from the US fans to spur him on.
Promisingly, the weather forecast is looking good, with lots of sunshine and agreeable temperatures, without the exhausting heat wave of last year. This should mean the hottest action will be on the track.
Randy de Puniet
"I'm still disappointed about the result last week but we had the speed, and did a good job of setting up the bike, so I'm feeling good for this weekend. I think it will be a hard race, though. Last year, it was difficult for me at Laguna: this track is like the Sachsenring in that it's short and tight and the Corkscrew is an especially difficult corner. I need to improve at that section this weekend, because I wasn't so fast there last year, but the bike and Bridgestone tyres should perform well and I think I'll be able to get a good result. And it's not as hot as in 2006, which will be better for the engine, for the tyres and for me! I like being in America, so I'm happy to be at Laguna, and I'm feeling confident and upbeat."
"This is my first time in America, and I'm excited to be here, but obviously that also means it's my first time at this track so it could be hard to learn it and still go fast. Still, I'm looking forward to the race: it's something different for me and should be exciting. I'm a little bit more confident coming here after last weekend's result at the Sachsenring but it's still going to be difficult. I just need to learn as much of the circuit as I can before I get on the bike, although I normally learn tracks pretty quickly. When I rode in some Supersport races earlier this year, I hadn't ridden any of those three tracks before but I still did OK, so hopefully I can do the same here. I don't know if I can still improve my final position in the race this weekend, I'd need to get higher than eighth, but it's different at Laguna as you don't get the usual people up at the front, so it could be possible."
Roger Lee Hayden
"I'm really looking forward to riding the bike again at Laguna; it's a track I know pretty well and I've had a lot of luck here in the past. This weekend's a big challenge to learn more about the ZX-RR, and about riding in a top level race, but I don't have any big expectations and I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. It should be a great weekend, though, as I always get lots of support from the fans in the AMA Superbike and Supersport races and I'm sure they'll be cheering for all the Americans on the grid in MotoGP."