The 2007 MotoGP World Championship drew to a close at Valencia today after eight months and 18 punishing rounds and, for the Kawasaki Racing Team, it proved to be a tough race.
Randy de Puniet got off to a bad start from a promising fourth on the grid, losing five places by the end of the first lap, but was soon fighting back as the field tore around the Ricardo Tormo circuit in front of an enormous crowd. The 26-year-old Frenchman was back up to seventh by the start of lap nine, having overtaken Makoto Tamada and Alex Barros during a blaze of personal best laps.
He then closed in on Loris Capirossi, and passed the Italian who immediately moved back in front on lap 12. De Puniet held his position until problems with his tyres started to make maintaining ultimate speed through corners too difficult and he subsequently lost out to Chris Vermeulen, then Barros.
As his last race for Kawasaki, and after a weekend full of promise, it wasn't the end he was hoping for. However, he finishes the season with 108 points under his belt (very considerably more than the 37 he scored in his 2006 rookie season), a podium finish at Motegi and a very proud crew.Team mate, Anthony West, had a tougher battle from 16th on the grid. Having struggled all weekend to find his form at the 4km track, he made it up to 14th in the early stages but soon felt unable to keep with the pack.
The 26-year-old Australian, who has been competing in MotoGP for only five months, now relishes the challenge of the forthcoming winter testing schedule, optimistic, as are his crew, that he will be able to further grasp the workings of his 800cc Ninja ZX-RR and come back next year a stronger, more consistent premier class contender.
Kawasaki did head the tables in one significant area at Valencia today: de Puniet and West recorded the two fastest speeds of the race at 298.8kmh and 297.8kmh respectively. Just one pointer that Kawasaki, and the Ninja, are moving towards an ever stronger season next year.
Randy de Puniet, 'I'm disappointed because I used a harder rear tyre, thinking that after ten or 15 laps it would prove a good choice, but I got the opposite performance. It dropped down a lot on the left hand side and the rear was locking at every corner. When I opened the throttle, I didn't find enough grip. It's a big shame because I never felt any of that during the practice sessions. It was a tough race and hard work but I rode as hard as I could to finish with as good a result as possible.'
Anthony West, 'The race, for me, was terrible and very long. But the good thing is I realised what my problem's been all weekend and I've been chasing the wrong issues. I thought it was all about the rear grip but actually I've just been lacking confidence in pushing the front. Now I realise that's what I should have been working on all weekend. Thirty laps around here taught me that! I'm glad winter testing's coming up and this result is going to make me more determined to do everything I can for next season. I'm going to spend the next few months training and trying to get this bike working for me so I can get faster and more consistent at every track.'