“We can certainly be at the top”
This weekend sees the return of the MotoGP series to Portugal for the 14th round of the world championship, at Estoril.
The Kawasaki squad, represented by Randy de Puniet and Anthony West, will be there to persevere in their mission
to gain points and continue the relentless development of the Ninja ZX-RR which, already, has made it very much a machine to beat.
Both riders stayed at Misano for a day's testing after the last round two weeks ago, evaluating some new components and perfecting the set up of their bikes.
De Puniet will be determined to perform at the highest level after his crash at San Marino. After putting in some increasingly powerful performances this season, including a superb top five finish at Catalunya in June, the 26-year-old, who lives in Andorra, is unwavering in his pursuit of a podium place in this, his second season at premier class level.
History shows the Frenchman has a strong record at the 4.182km circuit: he managed no less than four top ten finishes here in his 250cc days, including three thirds, and managed 10th spot last year on the erstwhile 990cc ZX-RR. With his increasing mastery of the new 800cc machinery and ample confidence in the Bridgestone tyres used by the squad, de Puniet will be fast, agile and unyielding as he fights for a good outcome this weekend.
West, meanwhile, is steadily coming to grips with the advanced bike and tyre technology of MotoGP and is proving a strong team member and reliable, fast and consistent rider, gradually learning his way around the 200+bhp Ninja.
The 26-year-old Australian has managed to score points in every race he's run for the team, having joined Kawasaki in June.
Last time out, at Misano, he grabbed another fine placement, crossing the line in 8th position and, like de Puniet, arrives at Estoril with a number of previous top ten results at the circuit from when he competed in the 250cc class. He will be out to maintain the positive momentum of his achievements so far, which have impressed both team and fans alike, ultimately aiming for a personal best, which will mean beating the remarkable seventh he scored at Laguna Seca in July.
Sited near the Atlantic coast and close to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, Estoril is a circuit of long corners (including the famous Parabolica), a tricky chicane towards its northern parameters, bumpy sections and a long start/finish straight, which demands plenty of top end power as the bikes stretch their legs past the paddock.
Given its proximity to the bike-mad racing fans of Spain, the Estoril round of the championship always proves a popular one. Furthermore, with the possibility of the title being claimed this weekend by Casey Stoner, there's likely to be even more interest in Sunday's 28 lap race than usual. Either way, it's a complicated and varied circuit which makes for a major challenge to all the riders and, therefore, a great spectacle for those who will be watching.
Randy de Puniet
"We stayed at Misano to test, which was very constructive. I was trying out a new swingarm, and immediately got a good feeling from it, so hope to use it in Portugal. Estoril's a very technical circuit. There's a long straight, which should be good for the ZX-RR, and another back straight, but the rest is really slow, especially the chicane at turns nine and ten. I think we're going to do really well there with the 800cc bike. We can certainly be at the top."
"At the test after the Misano race, we made some changes to the set up which immediately made me quicker and helped with the chatter problems I've been having, which means I should be able to run faster in Portugal. I like the track at Estoril, although it's quite complex. It will be better than Misano for seeing what the revised engine's capable of, especially down the long start/finish straight, but the slow, tight sections will keep us on our toes as well!"