“I'm looking forward to the racing”
The first round of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend and the Kawasaki Racing Team is ready to launch itself in to the new season with a new rider and an updated Ninja ZX-RR.
Qatar's Losail circuit will
host the inaugural round on Sunday 9th March and will do so, historically, at night. The track got the go ahead last year to erect a lighting system the likes of which the sporting world has never before seen and, when the whole circuit is illuminated, it uses up a mammoth 5.4 million watts of power to light its 16 corners.
All the teams spent two days last week testing in preparation for the forthcoming race and Kawasaki's John Hopkins and Anthony West are ready for the challenge, despite a few setbacks.
Hopkins, who will be racing the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR for the first time, is still suffering the after-effects of a crash at Phillip Island last month. Muscle damage in his groin is still causing the 24-year-old Anglo-American some discomfort but he's making a rapid recovery now and is sure he'll be fit enough to give it his all come Sunday night.
"I'm real excited to start the year! I feel my injury should be fine come race day as the pain has subsided a lot compared to how it was feeling a week ago. We have had a restful few days, which I feel has helped it, and I have been doing small exercises to strengthen the muscles which have improved the condition dramatically. I feel good. Plus, once the adrenaline kicks in, I know I will be ready to go!”, said Hopper. “As for the machine? I couldn't be keener. We made some successful steps forward with race tyres and a few other parts at the test last week and I'm ready to get the first race under my belt with the Kawasaki. Fingers crossed.
West, meanwhile, has been making great headway on his newly-updated machine but has doubts about the effect the cold, desert night conditions may have on his Bridgestone tyres. The 27-year-old Australian was one of many crashers during last week's test as temperatures at the circuit drop considerably as evening falls, lessening grip. However, he is hugely excited to soon be racing again and feels any such obstacles can be overcome with the set up he and his crew have been working on.
"I'm not feeling as good as I'd like as my lap times in testing weren't what I was hoping for. I'm quite concerned about the temperatures at night in Qatar as it was so cold and that affected the tyres more than I was comfortable with”, he admitted. “But we still made loads of big improvements to the bike. I'm really pleased with the feeling I'm getting from the new chassis and the set up generally has really come together over the testing season. But I'm keen to get back to racing now. Physically, I'm feeling fit and a lot stronger so I'm ready to get on with it."
"We didn't have the easiest time at the tests last week”, added Kawasaki Competition Manager Michael Bartholemy. “John's injury has obviously been an issue for us and the temperatures at the track caused some problems, too, grip-wise. Anthony in particular suffered a lack of confidence in the grip available, as it was so cold that he struggled to get the tyres up to temperature. We weren't the only team to struggle with this but, on the positive side, it seems the night temperatures are now rising a bit so hopefully we will see an improvement in available grip for the race. The biggest step we can take for now is to hope John, after an extra week for recovery, is in good shape for Sunday. It's the start of a new season and I'm looking forward to the racing and, hopefully, plenty of good results."
Losail is close to the Qatari capital, Doha, and was opened as recently as 2004. The circuit, at 5.38kms is the longest in the MotoGP calendar and, fast and flowing, will suit the ZX-RRs well. Overall, the mood in the Kawasaki camp is optimistic and the team are looking forward to the new season.
The weekend kicks off with the first practice session this Friday at 19:00 hours, local time, while the race itself will be held on Sunday night, starting at 23:00 hours, local time.