A perfect start to the weekend for Kawasaki
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet got his Australian Grand Prix weekend off to the best possible start, by taking provisional pole position aboard his Ninja ZX-RR during this afternoon's second free practice session at Phillip Island.
The 25-year-old Frenchman wasted no time this afternoon, taking pole position just fifteen minutes into the session, ahead of his Kawasaki teammate, Shinya Nakano.
The Kawasaki pairing remained at the top of the timesheet until the session was well into the final ten minutes, when a fast lap by Ducati's Loris Capirossi netted the Italian second place, and relegated Nakano to third.
With less than two minutes of the session remaining, de Puniet was finally knocked from the top spot by Nicky Hayden, who, in turn, was relegated to second place by Capirossi just seconds later.
Already on his out lap, and unaware that he'd been pushed back to third place, de Puniet started his flying lap just seconds before the chequered flag was brought out to mark the end of the hour-long practice session.
The Kawasaki rider was fastest at the third split, but suffered a big slide out of the final turn, which he controlled by holding the throttle wide open and relying on his Bridgestone tyres to find the grip necessary to bring the bike back in line. His tactic worked perfectly, and he crossed the line to take provisional pole, and to become the first rider to dip below 1'30s so far this weekend.
After running second on the timesheet for much of this afternoon's hour-long session, Nakano eventually finished fifth fastest, but is confident that there is more to come tomorrow.
Although satisfied with the handling of his Ninja ZX-RR during today's two practice sessions, the 28-year-old Japanese rider will make further refinements to suspension settings overnight, to improve the feeling from the rear of the bike when exiting Phillip Island's faster corners hard on the gas.
Randy de Puniet: 1st - 1'29.745
"Sometimes you turn up at a racetrack and the bike just seems to work; that's what happened here today. From the first lap this morning I felt comfortable on the bike, and we've changed very little during the two practice sessions. This has allowed us to test a number of different tyres from Bridgestone, and it has also given me time to perfect my lines at the corners where I wasn't so quick during winter testing. Both the bike and the tyres have improved considerably since we tested here in February, which is down purely to hard work on the part of Kawasaki and Bridgestone, so I have to thank them for that. I didn't feel like I was pushing so hard on my last lap, but I had a big slide exiting the final turn. But, our bike is very predictable when it slides, so I was able to hold the throttle wide open and, as a result, I didn't lose so much time. This is something we need to keep in mind for qualifying tomorrow, when I think it's possible to go even faster if the conditions remain the same."
Shinya Nakano: 5th - 1'30.716
"Today's result just goes to show the progress made by Kawasaki and Bridgestone since the winter test here back in February. We've been able to run near the top of the timesheet from the start of free practice this morning, eventually finishing top five this afternoon. Overall, the bike and tyres are working well here, but we still have some small issues when I'm hard on the gas, especially out of the fast left-hander that leads onto the front straight. We will make some minor changes to the suspension settings overnight that should improve things in this area, and I'm confident that this will lead to an improvement in my lap times tomorrow. Already I have a good feeling about this weekend, and I'm looking forward to getting back on track tomorrow morning."
Harald Eckl: Team Principal
"It seems that we have made a significant improvement to our Ninja ZX-RR since the winter test we completed here, and it's pretty obvious that Bridgestone have matched this improvement also. The bike and tyres have worked well for both riders from the beginning today, and I think this is the best start we've ever had to a MotoGP weekend. I hope we can carry this momentum into qualifying tomorrow, and then on to Sunday's race."
Kawasaki Racing Team