The Grand Prix of Valencia got off to a testing start today for the Kawasaki Racing Team as the first two of the weekend's practice sessions took place at the technical, 4km Spanish circuit. However, by the end of the afternoon, there were marked improvements in both riders' performances, indicating things will progress nicely in time for Sunday's race.
After the fast, fluid circuits of the recent overseas rounds, which saw the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR come into its own, the complex, "stop and go" layout of the Valencia track proved somewhat more difficult to conquer instantaneously. However, Randy de Puniet established himself on track by the end of the second session, taking well over a second off his morning practice best.
Indeed, with a time of 1'33.519, the 26-year-old Frenchman came in sixth fastest, just 0.551 seconds behind the day's leading man, Casey Stoner, and a minuscule 0.018 seconds behind Chris Vermeulen. He also recorded a fourth-highest top speed of 298kmh, so ended both sessions with increased confidence after he and his crew had carried out numerous improvements to his bike over the course of the day.
De Puniet's team mate, Anthony West, struggled a bit more, recording a best time of 1'34.413 after the two hours' worth of practice. However, this is over half a second off his fastest of the morning and still only 1.445 seconds behind Stoner. If some early problems with grip can be solved during tomorrow's sessions, we could easily see the 26-year-old Australian moving up the field.
The Ninja, with its proven and highly-impressive power, lends itself well to more flowing tracks. Shorter, tighter circuits, such as Valencia, make for more of a challenge, something the team relishes. Therefore, there is no shortage of confidence in the Kawasaki garage that both riders will be prepared and fired-up for Saturday afternoon's qualifying.
Randy de Puniet, "We've improved the bike a lot, especially regarding corner entry and exit, and it's getting better all the time. Rear grip hasn't been a particularly strong area so we've been trying a variety of different settings throughout the day. I've been riding with a hard compound tyre on the rear and, because of that, I've had quite a few slides today. We did try a softer compound but, whilst it was better with grip, we have our doubts as to whether or not it will be long-lasting enough for the race. The front's fine though. It's a tight track and it's strange to come back to this sort of layout after the circuits we've been to lately. Certainly, compared to Malaysia, there's nothing like as much grip but tomorrow's another day and we'll see where we go. My times haven't been bad at all but, without doubt, with some stronger tyres I could definitely improve my times, raising me a few places and increasing the gap behind me."
Anthony West, "Admittedly, I didn't feel much confidence in either the front or rear today; I'm getting a lot of movement both on entry and exit, under braking and acceleration. The grip isn't sufficient at the moment for me to ride as hard as I'd like to. But we've tried a number of things today, especially regarding the suspension, and there have been some improvements. Still, we're going to discuss it further and come up with a good strategy to increase my confidence so tomorrow I can go faster."