Sepang : Kawasaki - Preview
The Kawasaki Racing Team head for the Far East this week, and an intense schedule of three races in as many weekends, starting with the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang, and taking in the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island before bringing their
whirlwind tour of Asia to an end with the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.
It's a punishing schedule for both teams and riders alike, with Sepang in particular making huge demands on the physical fitness and endurance of Kawasaki's riders, Shinya Nakano and Randy de Puniet, due to the strength sapping extremes of temperature and humidity experienced at the Malaysian circuit.
But both Kawasaki riders head into this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix with their sights set firmly on a strong performance, and confident that hundreds of testing laps completed during the winter at the 5.548 km Sepang circuit will stand them in good stead once practice gets underway on Friday.
For Shinya Nakano, Friday's two free practice sessions will allow him the first opportunity to test a revised Ninja ZX-RR engine and exhaust system, designed by Kawasaki engineers in Japan to improve torque at the bottom of the rev range, as well as outright power at the top end - both essential characteristics at the Sepang circuit.
The 28-year-old Japanese rider rates the Sepang track as one of his favourites, and is confident that the latest specification Ninja ZX-RR will suit the characteristics of the high-speed, but technical, Malaysian circuit. The Kawasaki pilot heads for Malaysia from his home in Japan determined to secure a good result for Kawasaki, as he builds up the momentum for his home Grand Prix at Motegi in three week's time.
"Sepang is definitely one of my favourite tracks, and one I know pretty well after completing so many laps there during winter testing. I've had some good results at Sepang in the past, and the fact that we head to Malaysia with a massive amount of data collected during testing means that I'm quietly confident ahead of this weekend's race," said Shinya Nakano. "The Ninja ZX-RR already suits the characteristics of the Sepang circuit very well, but this time around we have a revised engine and exhaust system to evaluate during free practice, and this could well give us a distinct advantage this weekend. Overall, I'm looking forward to racing in Malaysia, and I hope that I can pick up some good results here and in Australia, and then carry that momentum through to my home Grand Prix at Motegi."
Nakano's Kawasaki teammate, Randy de Puniet, has been on a mission in recent weeks, to improve both his qualifying performance and his race starts. The 25-year-old Frenchman saw an improvement in qualifying at Brno, after regaining his confidence in Bridgestone's super-sticky qualifying tyres during free practice, and a series of successful practice starts during the one-day, post-race test at the same circuit means that de Puniet heads for the Far East in determined mood.
The rookie Kawasaki pilot likes the challenges offered by the Sepang circuit, where he completed three successful tests aboard the Ninja ZX-RR over the winter. And, the demanding conditions in Malaysia will certainly hold no fears for de Puniet, who is one of the fittest riders on the MotoGP grid.
"We completed three successful tests at Sepang over the winter, so I know the track pretty well. Of course, everyone else knows the track equally well, because all the other MotoGP teams were out in Malaysia testing at the same time! But I like the track, and the fact that we managed to find a good working set-up on the Ninja ZX-RR during our last test there in February should stand us in good stead when practice gets underway on Friday," said Randy de Puniet. "I think it's possible to get a good result in Malaysia, but I do need to look hard at my starts. Too often in the last few races I've lost places from the start, and then been forced to try and make them back up during the race. We did some work on this during the post race test at Brno two weeks ago, so I'm fairly confident going into the first of the three overseas races."
Sunday's 21-lap Malaysian Grand Prix will get underway at 15.00 local time (GMT+8 and CET+6) on Sunday 10 September.