The Kawasaki Racing Team will get their 2006 MotoGP World Championship campaign underway in Malaysia on Monday, when Shinya Nakano and Randy de Puniet take to the Sepang circuit for the first of three scheduled overseas tests.
The two regular Kawasaki pilots will be joined on track in Malaysia by Japanese test and development rider, Naoki Matsudo.
For all three riders, the Sepang test will provide them with the first opportunity to evaluate the latest specification Ninja ZX-RR engine, on which Kawasaki engineers have been working non-stop during the winter break.
Almost a year in development, the new Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine has been designed from the ground up by Kawasaki's engineers, based on the lessons learnt since the Japanese factory returned to top flight competition at the end of 2002.
The new bike features a 990cc, inline four-cylinder engine that is significantly more compact than previous versions, housed in a chassis that Shinya Nakano declared a major step forward in terms of handling when he tested it at Sepang back in November.
And while Nakano and de Puniet have both taken time out with family and friends during the winter break, they've also been hard at work preparing physically for what promises to be a punishing season.
Nakano completed a seven-day training camp in Japan with his personal trainer, while de Puniet travelled from his home in Andorra to spend a week working with the Kawasaki Racing Team's physical performance expert, Dr. Tony Head, at a training camp in England.
Both riders head for Malaysia fully fit, and keen to get started with the build up to the 2006 MotoGP World Championship season.
"I have spent the winter break at home in Japan with family and friends, which was great, but I'm looking forward to getting back on track aboard the new Ninja ZX-RR in Malaysia. I completed a seven day fitness camp at home in Japan in preparation for the new season, and now I'm raring to go. I was very impressed with the new bike when I tested it at the end of last year, as it was a major improvement over the old bike in terms of handling. Kawasaki engineers have been working hard on the engine, and the Sepang test will be my first opportunity to see what improvements have been made. All I need to do now is get to Malaysia. The snow in Japan has been really heavy this year, and it has caused us a few problems with our flights. I have been stuck at Tokyo Narita airport for six hours waiting for a delayed flight, but at least I am able to take it easy in the departure lounge. Poor Matsudo-san had his flight delayed as well, but he had to sit on the plane for five hours before it eventually took off! Hopefully the same won't happen to me once we've boarded the flight."
Randy de Puniet;
"I can't wait to get back on track after almost two months off the bike. We had a very positive test at Sepang back in November and I'm keen to start testing the new bike again. At the last test I only got a few laps aboard Shinya's 2006 bike, but this time I'll have my own bikes to prepare for the season ahead. We've got a busy test schedule between now and the first race, with two tests in Malaysia and one in Australia before we head back to Europe for the IRTA tests. It's going to be hard work, but I can't wait to get started. I spent a week with Kawasaki's fitness trainer in England before heading out to Malaysia, and that has certainly helped with my physical preparation for the season ahead, and also with my English."