Looking for a Top 10
After a long and intense period of pre-season testing in which Kawasaki riders, Randy de Puniet and Olivier Jacque, covered more than 7000 km aboard their Ninja ZX-RR machines, the first race of the 2007 season has finally arrived.
This week the
Kawasaki Racing Team head for Qatar for the opening race of the season at the spectacular Losail International circuit, which is located in the desert on the outskirts of the Middle Eastern emirate's capital city, Doha.
The demanding 5.380 km Losail track has not always been kind to the Kawasaki Racing Team in the past, but a successful pre-season test at the circuit less than three weeks ago means that de Puniet and Jacque head for the middle east with high expectations of a strong race debut for Kawasaki's new 800cc Ninja ZX-RR.
De Puniet crashed out of last year's Grand Prix of Qatar on the opening lap, but heads for this year's race confident of making amends, after topping the timesheet during the final day of testing at Jerez just one week ago.
The 26-year-old Frenchman has concentrated specifically during pre-season testing on improving his consistency over race distance. De Puniet completed three race distance simulations in as many days during last months test at Qatar, with positive results, although the long runs highlighted how critical tyre choice will be for the opening race of the season.
De Puniet's Kawasaki teammate, Olivier Jacque, also heads for Qatar determined to put the memory of a crash behind him.
The 33-year-old Frenchman was forced to sit out most of the recent three-day test at the Losail circuit as a result of injuries sustained after high-siding his Ninja ZX-RR on the opening day.
Jacque is under no illusions about his return to racing this weekend. The Kawasaki pilot has worked hard during testing to provide engineers with the feedback so critical to Kawasaki's development programme, but now the former World Champion needs to switch back to race mode ahead of Thursday's opening free practice session.
The new regulations for tyres and fuel consumption could prove a major factor in the final results in Qatar, an exposed track where wind, sand and an abrasive surface also play a critical part.
With the ambient temperature expected to exceed 30 degrees centigrade, and with recent tests cancelled due to sandstorms, the race in Qatar, which is only one of two held on a Saturday, promises to be another test of endurance for all the MotoGP teams.
Randy de Puniet : #14 "After such a heavy test schedule I'm really looking forward to finally getting down to racing again. I think we've shown our competitiveness over the past few weeks and I'm happy with the performance of both our Ninja ZX-RR and myself. The test is Qatar went well, although we struggled a little with identifying a race tyre, but we were able to do some more work on this at Jerez where we made a big step forward. We're still missing a bit of top speed, which will be a slight handicap at Qatar with the long straight, but we've already shown that we can make up this deficit through the turns thanks to the balanced handling of our bike. The track at Qatar is normally quite dirty, which means there is normally only one racing line. This means that it's difficult to overtake and makes a good starting position even more important. I will be looking to qualify as high up the grid as possible, and I will be happy if we leave Qatar with a top ten finish in the opening race of the season."
Olivier Jacque : #19 "I can't wait for the first race - I'm really excited about making my racing return at Qatar. We've had a good pre-season - progressing and always evolving after each test, now we need to carry that momentum into the opening race. Losail is a special circuit for me. I have done many tests in Qatar, and despite the fact that I've crashed there a few times I really like the circuit. It's a good track, fast and flat, although it can also be tricky because the wind blows sand onto the track, making surface conditions unpredictable. There is a long main straight, and our top speed is not yet the best, but I think we can compensate for this through corner speed, which has proved to be one of the strengths of the new Ninja ZX-RR during testing. My target for the coming weekend is to improve my lap times, gain some consistency and battle it out with one of the groups in the race. I don't know if a top ten finish is possible, as I'm still not completely up to race speed, but I'm sure it's going to be a close and fun race. This race is sure to give me a boost - I have been waiting a long time to be part of a full factory team and I want to make the most of this opportunity, starting this weekend."
Kawasaki Racing Team