“That wasn't a bad day!”
The A-Style Grand Prix of Japan started well for the Kawasaki Racing Team today as Randy de Puniet, Anthony West and Akira Yanagawa mounted their Ninja ZX-RR machines and took to the circuit at Motegi.
De Puniet showed he was on form by ending
the first two free practices in second place, on combined times, after putting in blistering performances in both the morning and afternoon sessions. With a best time of 1'48.254 at the end of the day, he knocked nearly half a second off his previous best, assisted by a lightning top speed of 284.8kmh.
The 26-year-old Frenchman is determined to do well this weekend after a hugely disappointing Portuguese Grand Prix last week saw him retire with a mechanical problem. Happy with the progress made in setting up the bike so far, and riding at a scorching pace throughout the day, de Puniet is very much on course for the podium spot which, so far this season, has eluded him.
Team mate, West, started the day in less positive fashion, still unable to find enough grip to give him the confidence to fulfil his and the bike's potential. However, by the end of the afternoon session, the 26-year-old Australian was smiling as his best time of 1'48.529 put him in eighth position, just 0.030 seconds behind last year's winner at Motegi, Loris Capirossi, and ahead of current world champion, Nicky Hayden. Assorted suspension tweaks and some successful choices of Bridgestone tyres seemed to have done the job in helping West feel more at home on the Ninja than he has at previous rounds.
Meanwhile, wild card rider for the Japanese race, Akira Yanagawa, put in 28 laps over the two sessions on his ZX-RR and managed 19th place on the provisional grid. Stunned by the 800cc bike's light weight and staggering power, the 36-year-old Japanese superbike rider struggled slightly to find a set up to suit his riding style but, with his dedicated crew and the back up of the factory team, he is confident he can fine tune the Ninja to his needs by the start of Sunday's 24-lap race.
It was a boiling hot day at Motegi, with temperatures reaching 34°C and the track temperature 46°C this afternoon. With the weather set to continue in this vein for the coming weekend, and the top 15 riders within a second of provisional pole man, Dani Pedrosa, it looks as if Sunday's race could be a sizzling spectacle indeed.
Randy de Puniet
"That wasn't a bad day! This morning we worked on the settings on the bike and this afternoon we tried a harder compound tyre, which was better for longevity because I did 20 laps on it and my time at the end of the session was still very good. We can improve a few bits and pieces, including adjusting the rear suspension slightly and perhaps working with a different rear tyre, but already, it's pretty good and I'm happy."
"This morning I didn't feel so confident but all of a sudden, this afternoon, everything felt good on the bike. I struggled in the first session with rear grip, just spinning and sliding everywhere, then this afternoon it was so different: just from better grip I could get more of a lean angle in the corners and choose better lines. Essentially, I simply felt more comfortable on the bike. It was actually a heap easier to ride and go faster. In one corner, I even got my elbow on the ground once or twice and I've never had that before! It was all a big improvement and the times show that."
"I feel okay. I have a little problem with chatter on entering the corners but I suspect some of that may be down to me because my riding style is not suited yet to this bike. We need to find a solution to that, if we have time. Anyway, I have to compromise and I need to put in some more laps to get used to the feeling of the Ninja. This bike is like nothing I've ever ridden: like the chassis of a 125 with the engine of a rocket ship! I think you probably need a special technique for riding it but I'm sure we can make some further adjustments to help me get more from it."