MotoGP heads to the Southern Hemisphere this week for the 16th round of the world championship at Phillip Island. After a hugely uplifting performance last time out at Motegi, the Kawasaki Racing Team are looking forward to continuing their success following Randy de Puniet's excellent second place, his first premier class podium, and Anthony West's hard-fought seventh.
Riding the Kawasaki ZX-RR, powered by the latest incarnation of the 800cc, four-stroke engine, and running the Bridgestone tyres that have dominated the series so far this year, de Puniet is looking stronger than ever.
With the Ninja repeatedly showing itself to be one of the fastest bikes on the track, and the number 14 pilot regularly proving to be one of the fastest men, the swooping, high speed turns of the Australian circuit represent an alluring challenge and the 26-year-old Frenchman's aiming high. After Shinya Nakano's early promise in last year's round, during which he built up a five second lead on the 990cc ZX-RR before weather conditions and tyre wear saw him relegated to eighth, de Puniet intends to secure a first top five finish for Kawasaki at the Island.
For stable mate, Anthony West, this will be his home round. Hailing from Queensland's Gold Coast, the 26-year-old Australian has had a stormy relationship with the Phillip Island circuit in the past, seeing everything from the second step of the 250cc podium in 2003, to a horrendous, 267kmph, first corner crash in 2004. Furthermore, he made his grand prix racing debut when he rode in the 125cc world championship round there in 1998.
With the support of his home fans, and the unforgettable seventh place at Motegi fresh in his mind, which he gained despite stalling the bike and pitting twice, West will show no mercy in his determination to demonstrate his talent at Sunday's 27-lap race.
Phillip Island itself is a legendary circuit with a history going back to 1928. It boasts some spectacular ocean views as well as having hosted some of motorcycle racing's greatest battles. The 4.45km track slithers its way through numerous turns, rounded off by the super-quick, start/finish Gardner straight, named after erstwhile Australian world champion, Wayne Gardner, who won the first 500cc round to be held in his home country, at Phillip Island, back in 1989.
With unpredictable weather and no end of high-speed curves, the circuit's a test of endurance for both rider and machine. And there's the added emphasis on the importance of tyre choice to survive the strain provided by all the long, and very rapid, left-handers, the most impressive of which are the terrifying turn one (Doohan's) and the final turn 12: two of the fastest corners on the calendar.