Thanks to a good tactic
Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano will start tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix from the front row of the grid, after qualifying his Ninja ZX-RR in second place during this afternoon's hotly contested timed session at the Phillip Island circuit.
Puniet will start from ninth position, and the third row, as changing conditions meant he was unable to better his fastest lap from yesterday during qualifying this afternoon.
Nakano was quick to stake his claim for a front row start, taking pole position on race tyres just ten minutes into qualifying. The 28-year-old Japanese rider relinquished the top spot five minutes later, but remained top five on the timesheet, as his Kawasaki teammate, de Puniet, put in a fast lap to take pole position at the halfway stage.
With his first qualifying tyre Nakano was the first rider to dip below 1'30s this afternoon, reclaiming pole position from de Puniet in the process. Nakano improved his lap time again with his second qualifier, but then fast laps in quick succession from Carlos Checa, Nicky Hayden and Kenny Roberts saw the Kawasaki rider pushed back to fourth, and facing a second row start in tomorrow's race.
Nakano started his final qualifying run determined to reclaim a place on the front row. With the qualifying tyres struggling to last even a single lap of the 4.445 km Phillip Island circuit this afternoon, the Kawasaki ace rode as smoothly as possible up to the first split, before riding right on the limit over the remaining two thirds of the lap.
It was a tactic that paid dividends, with Nakano taking second place on the grid, but missing out on his first ever MotoGP pole position by the slimmest of margins.
De Puniet was quick to take maximum advantage of a switch to qualifiers, taking pole position at the halfway stage in the qualifying session, and only relinquishing it to his Kawasaki teammate, Nakano.
The MotoGP rookie then held on to second place, giving Kawasaki a one-two at the top of the timesheet, before being pushed back to ninth position during the closing seconds of the hour-long session.
Both Kawasaki riders were happy with the pace and consistency of their lap times on race tyres today, and will start tomorrow's 27-lap Australian Grand Prix with their sights set firmly on a top five finish.
Shinya Nakano: 2nd - 1'29.258
"We worked extremely hard here at Phillip Island during the winter test in February, to provide both Kawasaki and Bridgestone with a lot of information and development data, and today was our payback. From this data, Kawasaki and Bridgestone have improved to the point where Randy and I were able to come here on Friday and be straight on the pace. I think this shows the commitment of everyone involved with the Kawasaki Racing Team. I'm happy with my consistency on race tyres, as this is important for tomorrow, but I'm also pleased to be starting from the front row. I saw from my pit board that I was in fourth place as I started my final qualifying lap, so I pushed as hard as I could to try and reclaim a position on the front row of the grid. I'm not so bothered about missing out on pole; the front row is good enough for tomorrow's race, in which I think it's possible for us to finish top five at least."
Randy de Puniet: 9th - 1'30.037
"I'm a little disappointed not to have matched my best lap time from yesterday, as this would have put me closer to the front of the grid for tomorrow's race. However, I am pleased with the improvements we made to the bike today, and also my times on race tyres. It's been a good weekend so far, and I hope we can carry the momentum into tomorrow's race. If I can get a good start, then my only strategy is to try and stay with the leading group of riders for as long as I can. I think it's possible, if our luck holds in the race, to score our best finish of the season so far tomorrow. That's what I'll be aiming for anyway."
Harald Eckl: Team Principal
"Shinya did a fantastic qualifying lap today, to finish on the second row, and as the highest placed Bridgestone rider. Both riders have a good race set-up, as they showed with their pace on race tyres early in the session, and this is equally as important as their final qualifying positions. I hope that Shinya and Randy can get a good start tomorrow, because I think they are both capable of finishing top five. I'm certainly looking forward to, what promises to be, an exciting race."
Kawasaki Racing Team