Kawasaki struggle a bit
The qualifying session for the first MotoGP round of 2008 took place tonight at Qatar's Losail International Circuit and it was not short on surprises. Rookies Jorge Lorenzo and James Toseland took pole and second position on the grid, while some
older hands struggled to find form at the 5.38km desert track.
But John Hopkins, riding the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR in his first race weekend for the squad, came over the line with the tenth fastest time of the session on the 21st of 23 laps. He was also the third highest placed Bridgestone rider, with only current world champion, Casey Stoner, and Valentino Rossi ahead of him on similar rubber.
Still struggling with a muscular injury in his groin, it was a great show of strength and determination by the 24-year-old. With conditions on the track being compounded by rapidly decreasing temperatures as the historic night time sessions progress, grip has, on occasion, been hard to find. Combine this with dust coming in off the desert and there's ample opportunity for a slip. But Hopper kept his cool and, after further testing of different compounds, found enough confidence in his tyres to get his elbow down on his final lap!
Anthony West struggled, as he has been at Qatar so far, to find his confidence on the 2008 Ninja ZX-RR but managed to improve on his earlier best times, putting in his fastest lap on his last outing: a sign that improvements continue to be made in the Kawasaki pit box. The headstrong Australian remains absolutely determined to make headway in the race itself having, with the assistance of his crew and Bridgestone, made steps in conquering the traction problems he's been suffering of late.
Tomorrow night's race will be the first Grand Prix, on either two wheels or four, to be run at night and, while those actually at Losail are able to witness this phenomenal spectacle from the ground, it is surely the stunning aerial TV shots of the illuminated track which fully reveal the enormity of the lighting system which has been installed for the event.
The Kawasaki Racing Team is striving to overcome the minor difficulties it has encountered and will be determined to prove itself, and its Ninja ZX-RR, at the inaugural race of the 2008 World Championship.
"We went out tonight with the task of finalising our race tyre. The track grip has increased considerably since the test last week and the tyre we started with was a little too soft, so we're now going to opt for a harder compound. We then started using the qualifying tyres, which have been difficult in the cold as, while riding, I have to try to keep the front end hot but the rear cool to make a good lap. We did the best we could and I gave it my all, although we just missed out on the third row. The fourth row isn't exactly where we wanted to be but we have a good race pace and I didn't feel the injury tonight once the adrenalin was pumping, so I'm confident we can do a good job tomorrow.
We've got a few improvements to make overnight and the plan is to get a good start and be in the midst of the action. I'm really looking forward to it."
"I certainly didn't expect to come into the new season and qualify dead last on the grid and, obviously, I'm far from happy with how things have gone over the past two days. John has shown that it's possible to get the bike and the tyres working here but, if I'm completely honest, for me it's been more a problem of confidence than set-up. I just don't feel comfortable on the bike; every session I've come close to crashing in the strangest places and I just don't know why. Of course, I'll sit down with my crew tonight to see if we can come up with some options to try in warm-up tomorrow but it's difficult when there isn't a specific problem we can point to and then work to resolve. Despite the problems we've had over the past two days, I'll still be going out in tomorrow's race to push as hard as I can for a good result because that's what I'm here for."