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Split second separates leaders at Estoril
A good day at the office for De Puniet
The 14th round of the MotoGP World Championship got underway today as the first practice sessions of the Portuguese Grand Prix took place at Estoril.

Dry and sunny weather welcomed the bikes on track and Kawasaki riders, Randy
de Puniet and Anthony West, climbed aboard their 800cc Ninja ZX-RRs with the aim of conquering the 4.182km circuit. Both were using the new specification engine they've been testing recently and, judging by their performances today, it's offering them no shortage of accessible power.

After both sessions, de Puniet claimed fifth place on the leader board with a fastest lap of 1'38.287 and a top speed of 313.9kmh. The 26-year-old Frenchman and his crew succeeded in finding a good set up almost immediately and, with promising results from the start, he came home just 0.337 seconds off the day's fastest man, Casey Stoner.

He was also fortunate with his early tyre choice as the Bridgestones he used in the morning performed admirably, despite Estoril's punishing series of corners, including the famously fast and long Parabolica. The day's progress was hugely encouraging for de Puniet and, despite riding with a broken rib sustained at the last round at Misano, he's upbeat about his chances in tomorrow's crucial qualifying session.

His team mate, West, was also fabulously fast on his Ninja today. His final placement on combined times was 14th but that figure disguises the fact he was well under a second behind Stoner: just 0.773 seconds, in fact. He has still struggled somewhat with set up, generally getting used to the bike and varying his riding style to suit its numerous demands but, with a top speed of 313.2kmh, fifth on the time sheets, he wasn't hanging about. Furthermore, he found the new spec engine really came in to its own on the long Estoril start/finish straight: the first time either rider has really seen what it can do at full chat.

The Australian completed 56 laps in total today with his fastest time being recorded just before the end of the final session: an indication his progression to confident and capable MotoGP rider is unwavering as he rides through a steep learning curve and, generally, comes up trumps. Certainly, with times so close to riders far more experienced on this machinery, West's advancement shows no sign of letting up.

Randy de Puniet
"I've been happy with the bike since this morning, when we immediately found a good setting. In the first session, I did 24 laps with the same rear tyre and my times were very good. I tried a harder compound but was sliding a bit so I went back to the first one.
I didn't realise my rib was broken until I got it checked out last week and, this morning, it was a bit painful to move on the bike; I was much more confident this afternoon after it had subsided a bit. We'll try to improve the ZX-RR a little for Saturday but it's already very good for the race. We just need to perfect some little bits."

Anthony West
"I'm still struggling a bit with chatter and rear grip but I'm sure we can improve things tomorrow. And I've been trying to change the position of the bike in corners and shifting my weight around to make it feel more stable. It feels like it's moving around a lot in the Parabolica, so I don't feel too confident through there, but I'm not losing much time through the rest of the track, just little parts here and there. Once we can fix that I can move up and be more consistent. The top speed down the straight's pretty good and, overall, the new engine felt great: really strong."

Naoya Kaneko
"The times today have been very tight, with most riders within a second of each other, so there's actually very little gap between Randy and Anthony. Randy has a found good package and the machine set up seems to be okay; we just need to polish it a bit with some small adjustments. West has a few problems we can improve upon, but he's working hard adapting to our bike and developing the skills needed to set it up and he's really making progress. Our Bridgestone tyres are working well: Estoril is a tough track for rubber, but that's the same for everyone, so we're happy with the performance overall."
Kawasaki Racing

     Rossi makes promising start in Portugal
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     Lorenzo at head of provisional Estoril grid
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     Rizla Suzuki aim for further reward at Estoril
     Determined Kawasaki focus on Estoril
     Repsol Honda team aiming high at Estoril
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