De Puniet feels particularly strong
Fresh from the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, the Kawasaki Racing Team this week heads to Sepang for the penultimate round of the 2007 MotoGP World Championship.
Randy de Puniet enjoyed many a top ten finish at the Sepang
International Circuit, near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in the years he rode in the 250cc world-level series and is looking forward to the battle this weekend.
The 5.55km track will host Sunday's 21-lap race and the Frenchman will be aiming to improve on the 13th place he managed there last year which, considering his recent form, shouldn't be too much trouble.
Riding the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR, the 26-year-old has consistently shown himself to be among the fastest racers in the championship this year and he is feeling positive after a healthy sixth in Australia. His ongoing improvement as a rider, and increasing skill at developing the bike, make him ever more a man to contend with.
Anthony West also knows Sepang well, having ridden there numerous times prior to his arrival in MotoGP earlier this season. Like de Puniet, he too has scored some top ten finishes at the circuit but the place is particularly memorable for the 26-year-old Australian as it was the venue for his debut race in the quarter-litre class, back in 1999, the year the track itself first welcomed Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Having scored points at every round since he joined Kawasaki at the UK's Donington Park in June, including at his recent home event, West is still aiming high and hopes, yet again, to finish well in Malaysia.
However, despite his experience, he lacks the advantage that almost all the other MotoGP riders have: that they have completed literally hundreds of practice laps at the circuit on their Grand Prix machines during winter testing sessions. Having come to the championship mid-season, this could make life difficult for him but West will not give in that easily and, as always, will prove an exciting and passionate competitor to watch.
The track is quite a spectacle in itself, boasting eye-catching architecture and a particularly intricate layout. It is located in an enormous sports and leisure complex and cost in the region of £50 million to create, some 19 years ago. It held its first MotoGP race the following year so experienced riders on the grid are used to its technicalities: some very slow corners, a number of medium to high speed curves and a couple of very fast straights, the longest of which measures 928 metres.
The Malaysian round always proves a great test of skill and this year sees the first time the track has played host to the 800cc machines. Kawasaki's ZX-RR has, throughout the season so far, evolved in to one of the fastest and most competitive motorcycles in the elite class, so the bike and circuit could well prove a very happy partnership indeed.
Randy de Puniet
"I think we have a good bike with good tyres for Sepang, although it's hard to be sure as the track's recently been resurfaced. But I like the circuit, I'm fast there and I think we can get a good result: top six again or maybe even another podium. That would obviously be my ultimate aim at the weekend. Certainly, I feel particularly strong after the last few rounds and the ZX-RR is working better than ever so I'm excited to see what we can achieve in Malaysia."
"I'm looking forward to Sepang; it should be a bit warmer than it was at Phillip Island, which can't be bad. I reckon the ZX-RR will perform well around the track. The engine's strong, so it should deliver on the two long straights and, if we can get some good traction on all those corners that make up the rest of it, I think we'll go really well. Ideally, I'm still aiming to better my previous best result of seventh at Laguna Seca. I know I'm at a bit of a disadvantage, as the other guys have done so many laps there, but I'm sure we can put up a good fight."
“We have completed many laps of the Sepang circuit during winter testing, but the track has been completely resurfaced since we were last here, and this will have an impact on tyre endurance. For sure the surface will be more abrasive than it was before, especially as there have been no major races on the circuit since the work was completed, which means that there will be little rubber on the track. We will have to see what our tyre endurance is like during practice on Friday, although the surface will almost certainly improve before the race as rubber is laid down during practice and qualifying. It's a factor that we will have to assess as we go through the weekend."