Shinya Nakano again proved the competitiveness of Kawasaki's all-new Ninja ZX-RR, by finishing with the third fastest time overall, as the final day of the IRTA test at Jerez saw a dramatic increase in pace by the frontrunners.
Nakano was closely followed by his Kawasaki teammate, Randy de Puniet, who waited until the closing stages before putting in a flying lap that saw him jump up the timesheet to finish an impressive fifth fastest.
Conditions were perfect at Jerez today, with warm and sunny weather greeting the teams and thousands of fans, as they arrived at the Jerez circuit for the final MotoGP pre-season test before the championship gets underway in two weeks time.
With tyre choice at Jerez critical, Nakano again started his test schedule working together with the Bridgestone technicians to confirm his choice of potential race tyres for the opening round of the season.
The 28-year-old Japanese rider also evaluated some small changes to the fuel injection system on his Ninja ZX-RR, before trying two different qualifying tyres in the last 30 minutes of the test.
On his second run on a qualifier, and with just five minutes of the test remaining, Nakano shaved over half-a-second off the lap record, to finish this final test with the third fastest time overall.
De Puniet used this morning's test session to evaluate different suspension options on his Ninja ZX-RR, but switched back to his previous set-up after struggling to match his pace from yesterday.
The 25-year-old Frenchman lapped consistently throughout the afternoon, bettering his previous best time on race tyres at the end of his final ten-lap run.
Like his teammate, de Puniet waited until the very end of the test before trying two different qualifying tyres, with his final flying lap elevating him to a position on the timesheet that few expected the MotoGP rookie to achieve in such a short space of time.
The Jerez IRTA test brings to a conclusion an exhausting series of winter tests for the Kawasaki Racing Team, the intensity of which has been magnified with the introduction of the all-new Ninja ZX-RR at Valencia back in November last year.
During the course of the winter the Kawasaki Racing Team have travelled three times to the Sepang circuit in Malaysia, and once to Phillip Island in Australia, to test with regular Grand Prix riders Nakano and de Puniet.
Almost simultaneously development tests have been ongoing in Japan, with former 250GP rider Naoki Matsudo shouldering the testing duties. European Test and Development rider, Olivier Jacque, has also completed two test sessions at the Doha circuit in Qatar since the MotoGP testing ban ended in January.
The results of this intensive test schedule have been clearly seen during the IRTA tests at Catalunya and Jerez, with the latest version of Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR providing Nakano and de Puniet with a competitive package that is capable of running consistently in the top six on race tyres.
After three days of testing and fine-tuning, both Kawasaki riders leave Jerez confident that, when they return for the opening race of the season in just two weeks time, they'll be able to run at the front of the race, with a podium finish a more realistic prospect than at this same race 12 months ago.
Shinya Nakano: 3rd - 1'39.776 (82 Laps)"Yesterday I felt like we still needed to take another step forward, so today we spent a lot of time looking for the last small improvements from the suspension, the fuel injection system and also from the tyres. I'm happy to say we found it, but then everyone else improved towards the end of the test, so we now need to make another small step during practice and qualifying for the opening race here. We know that some of the guys who didn't have such a good test here will be quick to improve once the season starts, so we can't afford to rest on our laurels. Having said that, after such a successful test schedule over the past months, we will arrive at the first race with higher expectations than we have had in the past, and I'm confident that, in the 2006 Ninja ZX-RR, we have a package that will enable me to improve upon my fifth place in this race last year."
Randy de Puniet: 5th - 1'40.468 (95 Laps)"Today was quite hard. This morning we tried some different suspension components and settings on the bike, but it wasn't so easy to find a good feeling with the bike set-up this way, even after 55 laps. In the afternoon we switched back to the previous set-up and that definitely improved things. I managed to improve my lap time on race tyres, and my times were pretty consistent throughout. At the end of the day I tried two different qualifying tyres, and again I was able to improve my time from yesterday. I'm happy to finish fifth fastest today, but I know that I still have a lot of work to do this season; learning the circuits again on a MotoGP bike, and also learning how best to manage the race. The whole team have done a great job helping me adapt to the Ninja ZX-RR during testing, and I'm looking forward to returning to Jerez for my first MotoGP race, where I hope I can repay all their hard work with a good result."
Harald Eckl: Team Principal"What can I say, other than that we are ready to go! Both the team and the riders are in excellent shape for the start of the 2006 season. We've done our homework, confirmed everything during a successful winter test schedule, and now we're ready to start racing. I'm looking forward to travelling back to Jerez for the first race, and I'm confident that the team will acquit themselves well."