In hard fought Estoril race
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet posted his best result of the season so far at Estoril, overcoming the rear grip problems that have plagued him all weekend to bring his Ninja ZX- RR home in tenth place in this afternoon's 28-lap Portuguese Grand Prix.
De Puniet's was the only Kawasaki to make the finish, as Shinya Nakano crashed out of the race on the opening lap, after being hit from behind at the left-hand turn four. The 29- year-old Japanese rider crashed heavily, but was passed fit to return to the Kawasaki pit box after a precautionary examination by circuit medical staff.
A quick start from the sixth row of the gird, and an aggressive opening lap, saw de Puniet battling with Suzuki's John Hopkins for tenth place, but then rear grip started to deteriorate after just five laps, and the 25-year-old Frenchman was unable to maintain his previous fast pace.
A change in riding style to account for the lack of traction meant de Puniet was, once again, able to close the gap on the battle for ninth place, but after passing Loris Capirossi with just two laps to go, the Kawasaki pilot was forced to settle for tenth place at the line, after an abortive last lap passing attempt on fellow MotoGP rookie, Chris Vermeulen.
Although happy to have posted his best result of the year so far this afternoon at Estoril, de Puniet remains convinced that, without the grip problems he struggled with all weekend, a much stronger performance was possible in this, the penultimate race of the season.
Randy de Puniet: 10th
"I got a good start, and a couple of aggressive moves in the opening lap put me just outside the top ten, but then the rear tyre went off after just five laps, and I couldn't stay with the group ahead of me. I've never felt anything like it before. I was still pushing really hard and, by changing my lines through the turns, I was able to improve my lap time, which allowed me to close onto the back of Chris Vermeulen and Loris Capirossi. We were both able to pass Loris towards the end of the race, but I just couldn't get close enough to Chris to steal ninth place away from him. This is my best result so far this season, but I can't help feeling it would have been even better if we hadn't struggled so much for grip in every session. It's been a hard weekend for Kawasaki, but everyone in the team, together with the guys from Bridgestone, have done a great job under the circumstances, and for that I would like to say thanks to them."
Shinya Nakano: DNF
"I don't really know what happened. I had a clear line through turn four and everything was looking good. But then I felt someone hit my rear wheel, and the bike just disappeared from under me. It's frustrating for everyone. The whole team have worked hard this weekend, only for our race to be over after less than half a lap. We must put this behind us now, and concentrate on ending with a good result in the last race of the season in Valencia."
Harald Eckl: Team Principal
"Another difficult weekend for us, especially after the disappointment of Motegi. I feel particularly sorry for Bridgestone. All year they've worked hard to make improvements, with a lot of success, so it's a shame that they were caught out by the track surface here. Shinya was unlucky to go out of the race early on, but Randy did a good job under difficult circumstances to record his best result of the season so far. We need to learn from this weekend, so that we come back better prepared next year."