Not exactly the start Kawasaki was hoping for
Olivier Jacque was the sole Kawasaki survivor in today's opening race of the season in Qatar, bringing his Ninja ZX-RR home in twelfth place after his young teammate, Randy de Puniet, crashed out of contention after just seven
Jacque was forced to change his riding style after one-third distance, after the hard compound rear tyre he opted to use in the race started to slide under acceleration. Despite the lack of traction, the 33-year-old Kawasaki pilot maintained a consistent pace to close onto the back of Kenny Roberts and Toni Elias at the start of the final lap.
Jacque waited until the final corner to slingshot past the two Honda powered machines to steal a hard fought twelfth place finish at the line, and to claim Kawasaki's first championship points of the new season.
De Puniet managed a good start from the third row of the grid, but lost one place as the leading riders fought for position into the first turn, and then lost another as former teammate, Shinya Nakano, passed him on the next short straight. The 26-year-old Frenchman then found himself chasing reigning World Champion, Nicky Hayden, but despite being able to close right onto the back wheel of the American, de Puniet didn't have the outright top speed to put in a clean pass on the main straight.
Instead, the Kawasaki pilot was forced to try and carry more speed though the turns, and it was while pushing hard to make up ground that he lost the front of his Ninja ZX-RR in the final turn and ended his race without injury in the gravel trap.
The Kawasaki Racing Team will remain at the Losail International circuit for a one-day test tomorrow, where they will focus on a tyre evaluation programme set by Bridgestone.
Olivier Jacque: 12th
"Considering how hard the practice sessions were, I was not expecting to finish like this. Twelfth position is not where I want to be, but the rhythm and the fight have been satisfying. Following my team's advice, I took it easy at the beginning looking for my pace. I felt good and had a nice fight with Elias and Roberts. On the last lap I was behind Elias and he surprised me, making me go wide. Roberts overtook me but at the last turn I braked later than them and exited the corner faster, allowing me to finish in front. It was great to come back to racing and understand the bike better."
Randy de Puniet: DNF
"I'm really disappointed to end the first race this way. It is always hard to crash, but it is even worse doing it in the first race of the season while fighting with the current World Champion and being sure that you can beat him. Hayden's bike was faster than mine, but I managed to close on him. If I had had a little bit more top speed I think I would have been able to overtake him. I made a mistake trying to pass him and I lost two positions. I was riding at the limit and suddenly the front tucked under; maybe I kept the brake on too much, but the result was that I crashed. I feel bad now as I felt very good on the bike."
Michael Bartholemy: Kawasaki Competition Manager
"We were under no illusions about how difficult this first race would be for us, but still, this is not exactly the start to the new season we were hoping for. Randy was going well right up until his crash, but he has to push so hard to put himself in contention that, sometimes, a crash is unavoidable. Olivier rode a steady race to finish twelfth and at least salvage some points for the team in the opening race of the season, but we know that we still have some work to do to improve our engine performance. Now we must look forward to the next race in Jerez, where the circuit suits the characteristics of our Ninja ZX-RR better than Qatar."