An elated Kawasaki Racing Team are today celebrating Randy de Puniet's superb second place at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, after one of the most thrilling races in recent MotoGP history.
The 26-year-old Frenchman, starting from fourth on the grid, got off to a patchy start when he dropped back to 10th place as the pack launched itself off the line. He then had to contend with a couple of trips into the gravel, and a pit stop to change bikes, but it all failed to stop him from scoring his first ever premier class podium position.
What started as a wet race soon turned out to be a dry one and pit lane was a hive of frenzied activity as, one by one, riders came in to change bikes and slick tyres became the order of the day. De Puniet swapped machines at the end of lap seven and went from eighth position to 13th when he rejoined the track. From there, he made steady progress until finding himself behind eventual winner, Loris Capirossi, on lap 16, where he stayed until the end. It is a longed-for and hard-earned reward for him, his crew, the team and Bridgestone who are also celebrating: all today's top three riders, plus new world champion, Casey Stoner, are in partnership with the Japanese tyre manufacturer.Anthony West, also rode what can only be described as an incredible race. From sixth on the grid, the Australian found himself leading by the end of the second lap but, after a jump-start, he had to complete a ride through penalty and rejoined the pack in 14th. However, the 26-year-old was in no mood to give in and continued to fight his way back until he then had to pit again, this time to change bikes. In the process, he went from seventh to 11th but still he rode hard, eventually, and against all odds, finishing the race in a magnificent seventh, equalling his previous best MotoGP performance at Laguna Seca, where he'd encountered none of today's obstacles.
Wild card rider, Akira Yanagawa, also has something to smile about. Five years after debuting the first 990cc Kawasaki MotoGP bike at Motegi, but failing to finish after a mechanical problem caused him to crash out, the 36-year-old has now completed a premier class race, taking 17th position in a field of 21. He pulled a huge wheelie over the line, much to the delight of the team who were, by this stage, clambering all over pit wall in euphoria over all three riders' achievements.
It was a particularly special race for Kawasaki: the team's first 800cc podium, the first podium this season, West leading a MotoGP for the first time and Yanagawa finally completing a premier class race. And all at the manufacturer's home round.