Fresh from the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, the Kawasaki Racing Team this week heads to Sepang for the penultimate round of the 2007 MotoGP World Championship.
Randy de Puniet enjoyed many a top ten finish at the Sepang International Circuit, near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in the years he rode in the 250cc world-level series and is looking forward to the battle this weekend. The 5.55km track will host Sunday's 21-lap race and the Frenchman will be aiming to improve on the 13th place he managed there last year which, considering his recent form, shouldn't be too much trouble.
Riding the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR, the 26-year-old has consistently shown himself to be among the fastest racers in the championship this year and he is feeling positive after a healthy sixth in Australia. His ongoing improvement as a rider, and increasing skill at developing the bike, make him ever more a man to contend with. Anthony West also knows Sepang well, having ridden there numerous times prior to his arrival in MotoGP earlier this season. Like de Puniet, he too has scored some top ten finishes at the circuit but the place is particularly memorable for the 26-year-old Australian as it was the venue for his debut race in the quarter-litre class, back in 1999, the year the track itself first welcomed Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Having scored points at every round since he joined Kawasaki at the UK's Donington Park in June, including at his recent home event, West is still aiming high and hopes, yet again, to finish well in Malaysia. However, despite his experience, he lacks the advantage that almost all the other MotoGP riders have: that they have completed literally hundreds of practice laps at the circuit on their Grand Prix machines during winter testing sessions. Having come to the championship mid-season, this could make life difficult for him but West will not give in that easily and, as always, will prove an exciting and passionate competitor to watch.
The track is quite a spectacle in itself, boasting eye-catching architecture and a particularly intricate layout. It is located in an enormous sports and leisure complex and cost in the region of Ã‚Â£50 million to create, some 19 years ago. It held its first MotoGP race the following year so experienced riders on the grid are used to its technicalities: some very slow corners, a number of medium to high speed curves and a couple of very fast straights, the longest of which measures 928 meters.
The Malaysian round always proves a great test of skill and this year sees the first time the track has played host to the 800cc machines. Kawasaki's ZX-RR has, throughout the season so far, evolved in to one of the fastest and most competitive motorcycles in the elite class, so the bike and circuit could well prove a very happy partnership indeed.