Former 250cc World Champion, Olivier Jacque, will make his racing return with the Kawasaki Racing Team for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.
The 31-year-old French rider has been drafted into the team as a temporary replacement for Alex Hofmann, who sustained fractures to the ulna and scaphoid bones in his left wrist when he crashed during a promotional event ahead of last weekend's Portuguese Grand Prix, putting him out of action for five weeks.
The severity of Hofmann's injuries mean that the 27-year-old German rider will definitely miss the next two Grand Prix events in China and France, but is aiming to return to the MotoGP grid for the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello on 5th June.
The decision to run a replacement rider was taken jointly by Kawasaki Racing Team Manager, Harald Eckl, and senior Kawasaki staff in Japan as soon as the extent of Hofmann's injuries became apparent.
Jacque received the call up late on Sunday evening and immediately jumped on a plane for Portugal, taking advantage of a planned test at the 4.1km Estoril circuit on Monday to familiarise himself with the Ninja ZX-RR ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
Despite the fact that his MotoGP experience over the past 12 months has been limited to infrequent wild card appearances for Moriwaki, and a brief outing on the 2004 version of Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR for a magazine test, Jacque proved at Estoril that he's lost none of the skills that took him to a World Championship title in 2000.
Although the test was brief, it allowed Jacque the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the sheer speed of a MotoGP bike, always a problem when a rider returns to racing after a long absence.
Jacque was reunited during the Estoril test with two people who played a very big part in his World Championship winning season back in 2000. Regular Kawasaki rider, Shinya Nakano, was the teammate that the Frenchman beat to the title by the narrowest of margins, while Kawasaki's current MotoGP Technical Director, Ichiro Yoda, was the man responsible for designing the 250cc machine that both riders campaigned that year.
Jacque will sport his trademark number 19 on his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR when he takes to the track for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai in just over a week's time.
Olivier Jacque: #19
"I am really pleased to be back racing again, and this is a fantastic opportunity for me. It's good to be riding again in the same team as Shinya, who is a friend as well as being a great competitor, and I'm happy to be working again with Yoda-san, for whom I have a great deal of respect."
"The test at Estoril was a short one, but I was immediately impressed with how much of an improvement this year's Ninja ZX-RR is over the 2004 version I rode for a magazine test at the end of last season. The new engine seems to produce more power and the stability of the chassis is also much improved since last year. As Shinya has proved with his results this season, the bike definitely has potential."
"After seven months away from racing it takes some time to get back up to speed and to rediscover your feeling for the bike. The Chinese Grand Prix will provide an opportunity for me to find this feeling, to get more experience of the bike and to find a set-up I'm happy with ahead of my home Grand Prix at Le Mans. So, while I'll be looking to do the best I can in the race in China, the main goal is to be competitive by the time we arrive at Le Mans for the French Grand Prix. To score a good result in Le Mans would be fantastic for me and for Kawasaki."
Harald Eckl: Team Manager
"While it is unfortunate that Alex will miss the next two races through injury, we were lucky that someone of Olivier's calibre was available to replace him at such short notice. Jumping on a MotoGP machine after such a long layoff is difficult for any rider, but Olivier adapted quickly during his brief test at Estoril and I'm sure that, as he becomes more familiar with the characteristics of the Ninja ZX-RR and our Bridgestone tyres, his lap times will continue to improve during practice and qualifying ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. Nobody has raced in Shanghai before, so Olivier will not start next weekend at a disadvantage, and few riders know their way around Le Mans as well as he does. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do on our bike at his home Grand Prix."