At the first MotoGP official challenge
Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet brought to an end the final pre-season test in fine style this afternoon, as he took a hard-fought fifth place during the annual 40-minute televised qualifying shootout at Jerez.
The 26-year-old Frenchman
has been consistently in the top ten on the timesheet throughout the three-day IRTA test on race tyres, but despite finishing the timed qualifying session as the top Bridgestone rider today, de Puniet was convinced he could have gone faster had he not hit a false neutral on his final flying lap.
The Kawasaki pilot had planned to run with a fourth qualifying tyre late in the session, but a light rain shower with just five minutes left to run meant that he was unable to improve upon his previous best time.
After concentrating on refining the balance and set-up of his Ninja ZX-RR during the first two days of the final pre-season test, Olivier Jacque finally got to try a qualifying tyre on his 800cc Kawasaki during this afternoon's timed practice.
Surprised by the difference in available grip compared to the race tyres, Jacque was unable to use the first qualifier to maximum advantage, but with his second super sticky rear tyre fitted the Frenchman managed to reduce his lap time by a second. With a better understanding of the performance of the Bridgestone qualifying tyres, Jacque headed out on a third qualifier, but was forced to abandon his lap after seeing spots of rain on his visor and screen.
First and second place on the timesheet for de Puniet and Jacque during this afternoon's final free practice session confirmed the potential of Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR, although both riders know that there is still some work to be done ahead of the opening race of the season, which will take place in Qatar on 10 March.
Randy de Puniet: 5th - 16 Qualifying Laps - Best Lap 1'39.832
"I am a little bit upset, not with the position I got at the official practice, but with my lap time. I improved with every qualifying tyre I tried, but in my last lap I hit a false neutral in the gearbox and that lost me some time. It also started to rain, but I just closed my eyes and pushed hard until the end. I'm sure that without the mistake I would have been into the low 1'39s bracket. Overall I am satisfied with the job we did during the session and these three days of testing. We made some changes to suspension settings and my feeling was much better this morning. Today the engine was smoother and this is important for race distance. I can't wait to arrive in Qatar for the first round."
Olivier Jacque: 15th - 12 Qualifying laps - Best Lap 1'40.551
"This afternoon's timed session was the first time I've tested the qualifying tyres from Bridgestone. I was surprised at just how much more grip they offer compared to the race tyres, which meant I didn't get the best from the rear qualifier first time out. On the second tyre my lap time was a second quicker and I'm confident I'd have been able to improve again with the third soft tyre, but then I noticed rain on my visor, so I abandoned the last flying lap and returned to the pits. Now I realise I could have carried on, but I wasn't sure how heavy the rain was at different parts of the circuit and there was no reason to risk everything for a fast time so close to the start of the season. Anyway, overall I'm pretty satisfied because I'm not so far off the top five. The bike definitely felt better today and the extra grip of the qualifiers helped to overcome some of the set-up issues we've had. The balance is still not perfect, but most important is that we've seen an improvement day by day."
Ichiro Yoda: Racing Director
"Our assessment of these tests is very positive, as we proved our potential. Randy and Olivier showed it in the first sessions and during the official timed practice this afternoon, even though they still don't get on well with the qualifying tyres, and confirmed it in the afternoon. Compared with the last tests in Qatar we have done a step forward with the tyres, as we are sure now about the choice for the race. However, we need to improve the engine performance in order to gain some top speed and to get a friendlier power delivery. I'm satisfied with our riders' job so far, but I have already let them know our expectations for Qatar."