De Puniet and West on the second row
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet and Anthony West overcame soaring temperatures and exhausting humidity at the Motegi circuit this afternoon, to qualify their Ninja ZX-RR machines on the second row of the grid for tomorrow's 24-lap Japanese
Kawasaki wild card rider, Akira Yanagawa, will be chasing his team mates from the seventh row of the grid, after qualifying in 19th position today.
De Puniet opened proceedings this afternoon by switching to a qualifying tyre just before the halfway point in the session, capturing pole position with his first attack lap. The 26-year-old Frenchman held onto the top spot until the final six minutes, before finally being deposed by eventual pole sitter, Dani Pedrosa.
Pushed further down the order after a string of fast laps by his factory rivals, the Kawasaki pilot looked all set to reclaim a front row position with his last flying lap, but was baulked by another rider through the last sector and, finally, had to settle for fourth position and the lead spot on an all-Bridgestone second row.
While de Puniet's confidence is high going into tomorrow's race, the Frenchman knows that a fantastic qualifying performance today doesn't automatically guarantee an equally good result tomorrow, when conditions are likely to be very different at the Motegi circuit.
After struggling to get the best from his qualifying tyres in previous races, West proved today that he's now mastered the technique needed to turn in a fast time when it counts, by posting his best qualifying performance to date.
The 26-year-old Australian was placed second on the timesheet, just behind his team leader, after his first qualifying run, but was eventually pushed off the front row to finish the hour long session sixth fastest overall.
Like West, Kawasaki wild card rider, Akira Yanagawa, also has limited experience of Bridgestone's qualifying tyres, but still turned in a creditable performance in his first MotoGP qualifying session since Catalunya in 2003, to secure 19th position on the grid.
The 36-year-old Kawasaki stalwart is under no illusions about how difficult tomorrow's race will be, but remains determined to finish what he started at Motegi five years ago and finally see the chequered flag in his home race aboard Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine, albeit one that is very different to the bike he debuted here in 2002.
All three Kawasaki riders are keen to secure a good result in tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix, which will be watched trackside by the chairman of the board of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. Mr. Masamoto Tazaki, and the managing director of Kawasaki Motors Racing, Mr. Yoshio Kawamura.
Randy de Puniet
"I'm a little bit disappointed because I wanted to be on the first row but it wasn't possible. I gave the maximum, and I was still going well on the last lap, but Checa was in front of me and I lost a few tenths so couldn't make it. Still, I hope to do okay in the race. I'm very happy to be the first Bridgestone rider on the grid, everybody's done a great job so far this weekend and I feel comfortable with the bike, the race tyres and I hope to go well tomorrow."
"Hopefully it won't be this hot tomorrow because a whole race like this could be very difficult. At the last few rounds, I've struggled to find the right set up, but here I'm happy with what we've done so I think it could be a good race. I thought the other guys would go quicker in the last few minutes because I got my qualifying in early but most of them didn't so I'm still second row. It's a perfect place to start and I'm feeling really happy."
"I'm still unable to fulfil the potential of this bike the way we've seen Randy and Anthony doing today because I haven't yet managed to alter my riding style to suit it. For example, I like the front suspension to be set harder but this bike doesn't like that set up so, as I said yesterday, we need to compromise! For the race, we've chosen a softer front and a medium rear and I used two qualifying tyres, which made me almost a second faster, but I need to open the throttle some more. I'm used to this weather but I'm not used to this bike! But I will do my best, of course."