Kawasaki's Randy de Puniet and Shinya Nakano faced difficult conditions in today's annual qualifying shootout, after torrential rain hit the Catalunya circuit just one hour before the start of the 45-minute timed session.
Fully recovered from his big crash in Friday's opening day of testing, de Puniet continued to work with his crew on the set-up of his Ninja ZX-RR while conditions remained dry this morning.
Just five laps into the session de Puniet dipped under his previous best lap time, before being forced back to the Kawasaki pit box by the deteriorating track conditions.
The 25-year-old Frenchman made a cautious start to the wet qualifying session, increasing the pace only after assessing the level of grip available from a very cold and wet Catalunya track. While a number of more experienced riders were caught out by the slippery conditions, de Puniet rode consistently to finish his first MotoGP qualifying session in a creditable tenth position.
Just one place behind his Kawasaki teammate, Shinya Nakano looked almost certain to break into the top five towards the end of the session, until a near highside forced the Japanese rider to back off the throttle on his final flying lap.
Although disappointed not to have finished higher during the wet qualifying session, Nakano remained upbeat about the previous two days of testing in dry conditions.
The Kawasaki rider was third fastest during testing yesterday, after making improvements to the set-up of his Ninja ZX-RR, and heads to next week's IRTA test at Jerez confident of further improvements.
The IRTA test at Jerez is the final pre-season test for the Kawasaki Racing Team before the 2006 MotoGP World Championship gets underway, again at Jerez, on Sunday 26th March.
Randy de Puniet: #17 - 10th (2'01.249)"The bruising from my first day crash was better this morning and it only took five laps for me to improve on my best time from yesterday. Once again the team did a great job during this test. In dry conditions we found a good set-up and I was happy to finish yesterday with the sixth fastest time. The bike worked well during the wet qualifying session today, and I managed to improve my time with each lap completed, so I'm happy with that. But, of course, I would have been happier to finish higher than tenth position. I'm looking forward to testing at Jerez later this week, as it's always been one of my favourite tracks and I think it will suit the Kawasaki very well."
Shinya Nakano: #56 - 11th (2'02.177)"The rain and cold made conditions for qualifying really difficult, the track was very slippery in places. But after so much testing it was good to ride competitively again, even if it was only for a 45-minute session. At the start I didn't have a good rhythm on the bike, but this improved towards the end and as I got a feel for the level of grip available I was able to start improving my speed. But then, towards the end of the session, I lost the rear and the bike almost highsided me. That knocked my confidence a little and there just wasn't enough time to get back up to speed before the 45 minutes were up. While I'm disappointed with 11th place in qualifying today, I'm happy with the progress we've made overall, and also with finishing third fastest in dry conditions yesterday."
Naoya Kaneko: Technical Manager"This morning we concentrated again on set-up with both riders, before preparing for this afternoon's qualifying session. While I'm sure the riders would have preferred qualifying to have been dry, the wet conditions proved useful for our engineers today. Normally the riders don't push so hard during a wet free practice, but today they were out to set a fast lap and we have collected some very useful data as a result. Overall, the test has been a positive one for us and we leave here with a clear direction for further development between now and the opening race of the season."
Harald Eckl: Team Manager"Catalunya is a fast circuit, and not one that has suited the Kawasaki in the past, but this weekend both riders have been closer to the top of the timesheets and this confirms our feeling from the overseas tests that in the new Ninja ZX-RR we have a very competitive package indeed. But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. In the wet conditions today we could see that we still have some work to do on the electronics package, to improve driveability and to make the bike easier for the rider to control. But, overall, this has been a successful test for us, and I leave here quite satisfied with the performance of the bike and the riders, and I'm looking forward to the final pre-season test at Jerez next week."