“A really great feeling”
Kawasaki's Anthony West achieved a MotoGP career best finish on Sunday, with a determined ride to fifth place aboard his Ninja ZX-RR at the Czech Republic Grand Prix.
With a complete contrast in weather conditions following Saturday's rain-soaked
qualifying, West made a strong start to the 22-lap dry race from sixth position on the grid. Fourth into the first corner, the Australian rider immediately came under attack from the pursuing pack and, despite doing everything in his power to keep them at bay, the Kawasaki pilot dropped back to settle into a steady rhythm in sixth place.
By the halfway mark West's confidence had grown considerably. Casey Stoner's crash at the front of the race left West in fifth place, but he quickly moved up to fourth after passing his Kawasaki teammate, John Hopkins, who was starting to struggle with a lack of rear traction. The 27-year-old Australian fought to maintain quick and consistent lap-times before losing out to a resurgent Shinya Nakano in the closing stages at the 5.403km track.
West rode determinedly to the flag to achieve his best ever result in the premier class, crossing the line in an impressive fifth position aboard his Bridgestone-shod Ninja ZX-RR.
“To finish fifth is a really great feeling and it just shows exactly what we are capable of achieving”, he said. “I got a good start to the race, but I dropped down to sixth after a few laps and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to fight back, especially after not having much dry time on the bike here. However, my confidence grew as we went on and I was able to catch up with John and pass him for fourth at the halfway point.
The grip levels dropped off towards the end, so there was nothing I could do about Shinya other than to continue lapping consistently to the flag. I felt so much more comfortable on the bike than I have done previously and the Bridgestone tyres definitely had an advantage over some of the other riders. I had to ride really hard today, in fact I didn't even look at my pit board until halfway through, so there's still more work to be done as we had to push a lot to get out of the turns fast enough. Thankfully it paid off and fifth place is my best result yet in MotoGP, so I'm really happy.”
Hopkins started the race well from the front row of the grid and battled throughout the opening laps for third position with the Suzukis of Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi.
The 25-year-old Anglo-American dropped back to settle into seventh place but, despite looking almost certain for a strong result on his return to racing from injury, a disappointed Hopkins was struggling for rear grip and got ambushed by a succession of riders in the closing stages, pushing him back to 11th position at the chequered flag.
“It's obviously disappointing to finish the race in 11th place, especially after feeling so confident and strong early on. We took a gamble with our tyre choice today and used a rear tyre that nobody else had in their selection”, he commented. “I got a great start to the race and I sat behind the Suzuki riders while they battled things out for third. Unfortunately the tyre began to drop off and at the end of the race the left side just didn't have any grip. Usually I can ride around a problem like this, but with the knee injury I'm carrying, I couldn't prop the bike up to compensate for this lack of traction. The positive thing is that we were strong while the tyre was working well, and we achieved a front row start, so we have a goal to aim for in testing over the next few days. During the next two days of testing I'm looking forward to catching up on a lot of the riding I've missed through injury, improving the bike further and finding a solution to the problem we had today. I'd also like to congratulate Anthony; it's great to see him riding like that again and he really deserved the result he achieved.”
"I am happy with this weekend as we've had a good pace right from the start, which shows the potential results we can achieve”, added Michael Bartholemy. “Anthony has really impressed me today because I wasn't really expecting him to achieve a result like this in the dry and he rode a fantastic race throughout. I am sorry for John because he was strong early on in the race, but there was little he could do when the grip dropped off. We now have two days testing where John has some important track time to catch up on the races he's missed in the last few weeks. We have some more parts to evaluate and we will also be working closely with Bridgestone to make improvements with the tyres. Overall I am pleased and I hope we can continue with this kind of form in the future.”