03-06-07, 01:39 PM
Kawasaki Racing Team riders, Olivier Jacque and Randy de Puniet, will start tomorrow's Grand Premio d'Italia Alice from the front of the second and third rows of the grid, respectively.
After a session during which the weather was as changeable as the leader board, both riders have been rewarded for their tactical riding as track conditions veered between dry and drenched. After an initial downpour at the scenic Mugello circuit, the qualifying session began with slower laps as riders bade their time while the track dried. But both Randy and Olivier used the time wisely, putting in early fast laps, which paid off when the clouds opened, yet again, and racers were forced back in to the pits to await the passing of the deluge. By the time the track had started to dry again, many of the field were unable to improve on their earlier times, with only a fraction of the session remaining, leaving the Kawasaki men comfortably within the top ten. However, rather than resting on their laurels, both were still able to improve on their earlier attempts, each one running their best time on their final laps.
Jacque, returning to the fray having missed the race at Le Mans due to injury, laid claim to fourth place on the grid: the highest qualifying position yet for the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR. With both bikes running the new Kawasaki engine, the team have liberated even more power at the top end and this was reflected in their performance today. With a final time of 2'01.709, Jacque, a former 250cc world champion, is 1.350 seconds behind leading man, Casey Stoner, and just 0.014 seconds behind Valentino Rossi.
De Puniet's qualifying session resulted in a seventh place on the grid: far stronger than the 14th position he achieved in Italy last year. The 26-year-old Frenchman enjoys riding the fast, Tuscan circuit and managed a top speed of 304.48 km/h, despite the unpredictable grip on the waterlogged track. Finishing just 0.442 seconds behind Marco Melandri, de Puniet beat Dani Pedrosa to his place on the start line.
Both Kawasaki riders are still bearing the scars of injuries sustained at Le Mans and Shanghai. Given wet weather riding puts less physical strain on the upper body than full-on, dry conditions, both were hoping for some rain to level out the playing field in their favour and their prayers were most definitely answered.
Tomorrow's race will, no doubt, prove exciting and exhilarating as fanatical crowds gather at Mugello for what is, historically, one of the most entertaining rounds of the MotoGP season. Further unpredictable weather is forecast and could, again, play in to the hands of the Kawasaki riders.
4th - 20 Laps - Best Lap 2'01.709 "That was the most exciting qualifying session of the season so far. Our tactics worked perfectly and I got my best ever grid position in MotoGP. The feeling in the wet was good and we improved the set up both for wet and dry conditions during the course of the day. I have more rear traction and, working with the mapping, we managed to make the engine less aggressive under damp conditions. In the afternoon, we first went out with wet tyres and I took the opportunity to improve my lap times when the track was drying out, just before it started raining again. Our strategy paid off later, too, as we waited until 10 minutes before the end to go out again, this time with intermediate tyres. The track had dried out again and I almost got a first row spot. I must thank my crew as today everything worked perfectly. Physically, I felt on good form in the wet and even this morning was better than yesterday. My arm is not painful anymore, although I can still feel a lack of strength in the dry. The weather is quite unstable and, at the moment, we're not sure what it's going to be like for the race. Personally, I'd prefer a wet race, even though the conditions are trickier, as it's less demanding physically and I enjoy it."
7th – 21 Laps – Best Lap 2'02.443 "I'm really disappointed about how the qualifying session ended. We did a good job throughout the day, improving both the dry and the wet set up, and I was among the fastest riders for most of the qualifying session. But I got confused at the end when I saw on my pit board that there was one minute left. I pushed as much as I could and I improved my lap time. What I didn't know was that I just crossed the line with a couple of seconds left and, considering the track was drier and my bike was feeling fantastic, I'm sure I could have got a second or even a first row place… Today, my injury felt much better and I don't think I'll have any problems in tomorrow's race, even if it's dry. The target is to finish among the first eight, though this circuit has plenty of overtaking points and anything can happen if it rains."
Kawasaki Racing Director "I'm really satisfied with Olivier's performance as, even though he is not fully fit, he's made a big effort and got a good qualifying position for tomorrow's race, which is really important. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Randy. He was improving his lap times, and he still had another chance, but he missed it. He needs to concentrate and if he has a chance, he must go for it. We are really satisfied with the Ninja's ZX-RR performance and the new engine is definitely a step forward, even if the set up still needs to be refined. We will see how the weather turns out tomorrow but the target is for both riders to finish in the top eight. It may be difficult if it's a dry race but, if it rains, we have shown that we can be up there."
1. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati Marlboro Team 2'00.359; 2. Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +1.022; 3. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Yamaha Factory Racing +1.336; 4. Olivier Jacque (FRA) Kawasaki Racing Team +1.350; 5. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Ducati Marlboro Team +1.438; 6. Marco Melandri (ITA) Honda Gresini +1.642; 7. Randy De Puniet (FRA) Kawasaki Racing Team +2.084; 8. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda Team +2.417; 9. John Hopkins (USA) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +2.573; 10. Alex Barros (BRA) Pramac d'Antin Ducati +2.666