The 2005 MotoGP World Championship season opens with the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on Sunday 10 April, with Kawasaki factory riders, Shinya Nakano and Alex Hofmann, eager to begin the 17-race campaign.
After seemingly endless days of winter testing with the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR it is finally time to go racing. This will be the longest ever MotoGP season, during which the sport will continue its global expansion with new races in China and Turkey. In a welcome return America, the single largest motorcycle market in the world, rejoins the calendar with the USGP to be held at Laguna Seca for the first time since 1994.
Jerez will mark the race debut of the latest evolution of the Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine, now powered by a big-bang version of Kawasaki's 990cc, inline four-cylinder engine. The revised motor only made its public debut in February, but has already shown promising performance potential despite still being in the early stages of development.
However, combining the race programme with the experimental demands of testing and research will be a challenging, and at times thankless, task during a busy Grand Prix campaign.
Riders Nakano and Hofmann will be familiar faces aboard the Ninja ZX-RR machines, but there are some new men behind the scenes, which reflects Kawasaki's on-going commitment to achieving MotoGP success.
Acclaimed Japanese engineer, Ichiro Yoda, has been appointed Technical Director, while experienced Italian race engineer, Fiorenzo Fanali, is the new crew chief for Nakano.
The Kawasaki team completed pre-season preparations at the official IRTA test session at Jerez just last week. Impressive performances by Nakano and Hofmann on their Bridgestone shod Ninja ZX-RR machines have put the team and the riders in a buoyant mood going into the opening race.
Both chassis balance and tyre consistency are important factors at the 13-turn Jerez circuit, which is known for a track surface that offers high levels of grip but is also highly abrasive.
As usual, the hillsides and grandstands surrounding the stadium style Jerez circuit will be packed with upwards of 140,000 race fans, guaranteeing a unique atmosphere for the opening Grand Prix of 2005.
Shinya Nakano: #56
"I like the Jerez track and the sheer number of fans packing the stands and the hillsides make this race a great one with which to start the new season. We have a lot of data from our tests here, both with the big bang engine and the latest chassis. It is important that you have a good chassis balance at this track, because there are so many direction changes, and that you don't attack the track too aggressively. Push hard at Jerez and you usually end up with a slower lap time than you were expecting. I like the final section of the track in particular, from the fast left corners leading into the flowing right-handers, and it is this section that is critical to a fast time around this circuit. After all the testing, I can't wait to go racing now."
Alex Hofmann: #66
"At long last I get to go racing. It's been a long wait through all the testing, but the first race is finally here. Jerez is a good track for me and it should definitely suit the characteristics of the Ninja ZX-RR, especially because outright top speed isn't so important to a fast lap here. I've had limited time with the new big bang engine, but my initial impressions have been positive; it's definitely a step forward. Throttle connection and overall balance through the fast corners are the key factors to a fast lap at Jerez. I want to make a strong start to my championship campaign, so it's maximum attack from the word go at Jerez for me."