Friday, May 19, 2006

Nakano targets front row

As de Puniet suffers Jerez flashback
Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano got his French Grand Prix weekend off to a flying start during this afternoon's free practice at Le Mans, finishing the hour long session third fastest aboard his Ninja ZX-RR, as the top twelve riders were split by a margin of less than one second.

While Sunday's race is predicted to be dry, the forecast for tomorrow promises only rain during practice and qualifying. With this in mind, Nakano and his crew concentrated today on identifying a suitable tyre for Sunday's 28-lap race. The 28-year-old Japanese rider evaluated a number of different rear slicks from Bridgestone, with positive results, but will leave the decision as to which tyre to race on until he's had a chance to assess the track conditions on Sunday.

Nakano is confident that, whatever the weather conditions during qualifying tomorrow afternoon, he has a set-up on his Ninja ZX-RR that will allow him to set his sights firmly on the front row of the grid.

Nakano's Kawasaki teammate, Randy de Puniet, overcame significant problems during this afternoon's free practice session, to finish in a respectable 12th place, and less than one second behind Colin Edwards, who topped the timesheet on the opening day.

After settling into a rhythm early on in this afternoon's session, de Puniet was involved in a collision with Toni Elias, which resulted in the 25-year-old Kawasaki pilot crashing heavily and destroying his number one machine.

But the Frenchman's problems didn't end there; in a rerun of his qualifying session for the opening race in Jerez, de Puniet misjudged his braking marker and ran on into the gravel trap after just two laps aboard his spare Ninja ZX-RR, incurring a ten minute delay as he waited for his crew to check over the bike in the Kawasaki pit box.

Despite the problems de Puniet recovered well, quickly finding a good rhythm on the bike with 15 minutes of the session remaining. A switch to a different rear Bridgestone tyre on his Ninja ZX-RR allowed the Kawasaki pilot to shave almost one second from his previous best lap time, to finish today less than a second from pole position.

Shinya Nakano: 3rd - 1'35.447
"The weather forecast is predicting a dry race on Sunday, but with rain during practice and qualifying tomorrow, so it was important for us to try and identify a race tyre during the dry conditions today. Bridgestone have brought a lot of new tyres to Le Mans, and I think today we tried them all. Every one was very consistent, which is good for us, but I think we will wait to see what the track conditions are like on Sunday before making a firm decision about which tyre to race. I like the changes that they've made to turn one since last year, but then I wasn't a very big fan of the original first turn to be honest. For me the new layout is better, although it has been quite hard to find the best braking point for the new turn one. Overall, the feeling with the bike has been good today, but I think that we can find some improvements through small changes to the chassis and suspension, together with some tweaks to the engine management package. At the moment I'm having to change my riding style and lines through the turns slightly to get the best from the bike, but I think it is possible to improve the situation before the race, as long as we get at least one dry session tomorrow, which I hope will be the case."

Randy de Puniet: 12th - 1'36.159
"This afternoon's practice session started well; after just a few laps I had a good feeling on the bike and my lap times were good, but then I had a collision with Toni Elias just after the Dunlop chicane and crashed, with the bike too badly damaged to continue. When I returned to the track on my spare bike I overshot one of the turns and ran on into the gravel trap. I lost ten minutes of the session while the guys sorted out the bike, and it took some effort to try and stay cool, and ride smoothly, when I did make it back out on track. At first my lap times were slower than at the start of the session, but then we switched to a different rear tyre and I was able to get back up to speed very quickly. It's a shame I wasn't able to continue with both bikes, as we're running a slightly different engine specification in each, and I would have liked to have had more time to run a comparison between the two, to see which was best suited to the Le Mans circuit. Hopefully I'll get a chance to do this in the dry tomorrow, but the weather forecast doesn't look too promising! Overall I'm happy with the result today; I'm less than one second slower than the fastest rider and I'm confident we can close the gap even further tomorrow if the wet weather holds off."


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