The Kawasaki Racing Team will field three riders in this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi, as test and development pilot, Naoki Matsudo, makes his only wild card appearance of the season alongside Kawasaki's regular MotoGP riders, Shinya Nakano and Randy de Puniet.
For Nakano, this weekend at Motegi is one of the most important of his season. The 28-year-old Japanese rider arrives for the final overseas race in confident mood, and determined to put in a strong performance in front of family, friends and his many Japanese fans.
The expectations of his home crowd mean the pressure is on Nakano this weekend, but the Kawasaki pilot remains relaxed, and confident that a good result in Sunday's 24-lap Japanese Grand Prix is well within his grasp.
Nakano's Kawasaki teammate, Randy de Puniet, is also confident going into this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, despite having no previous experience of the Motegi circuit aboard a MotoGP machine.
De Puniet has already proved a fast learner on tracks he's unfamiliar with, but the 25-year-old Frenchman has prior experience of the Motegi circuit on a 250cc machine, and is confident that the transition to Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine will cause him no problems this weekend.
Kawasaki test and development rider, Naoki Matsudo, is already an experienced World Championship campaigner, having started his Grand Prix career with a wild card ride in 1997, and then taking the first of two career Grand Prix podium finishes in the 1998 Japanese 250cc race, again as a wild card. The following year the 33-year-old Japanese rider went on to win five races, on his way to securing the All-Japan 250cc Championship title.
In 2000 Matsudo started the first of five full seasons in the 250cc World Championship, after which he made one wild card appearance in the MotoGP class in 2005, before taking on the role of test and development rider with Kawasaki at the start of the 2006 season.
Matsudo has logged many testing miles on Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR during the past nine months, and is now looking forward to putting this experience to good use in this, his debut race appearance for Kawasaki.
Shinya Nakano: #56";
Of course, this is an important race for me, as it is my home Grand Prix and every rider wants to do well in front of their home crowd. Expectations are high, which does bring added pressure, but this pressure is not such a bad thing because it is motivating rather than stressful. This year I arrive at Motegi with my confidence high. Okay, the final result in Australia was not as good as we were hoping for, but we've made a lot of improvements to the Ninja ZX-RR recently, and I felt I rode strongly during practice and in the opening part of the race at Phillip Island. The Motegi circuit demands a bike that is stable under braking, but also quick to turn, and I think our Ninja ZX-RR fits these requirements very well, although the proof will only come once practice starts on Friday. Tyres are also important here, but Bridgestone is a Japanese company who know this track very well, and their tyres have always offered an advantage at Motegi in the past. I'm confident that this will be the case again this weekend. Overall, I'm looking forward to racing in front of the Japanese fans, and I hope I can repay their support with a good result on Sunday."
Randy de Puniet: #17;
"I'm looking forward to this weekend's race. It's the last race of our overseas trip, and I think we've made some steps forward in Malaysia and Australia, although the final race results haven't reflected this completely. I've never ridden this track on a MotoGP bike before, but I was fast on a 250cc machine here, and I like the circuit. It's a very stop and go track, but also very technical. Exit speed from each corner is critical to a fast lap, so it's important that you carry as much pace as possible through the turns. We think our Ninja ZX-RR will work well here, and we know that the tyres Bridgestone bring to this race will suit both the track and the conditions, so our confidence is high going into this race. If we can continue the momentum built up in the previous two races, then I think a good result is possible this weekend."
Naoki Matsudo: #8;
"After many hours and many kilometres of testing, I am looking forward to my first race aboard the Ninja ZX-RR. I tested here at Motegi two weeks ago, and my lap times were consistent, but it will be good to measure myself against the level of the other MotoGP riders in a race situation. This will also help me when I resume my test and development duties for Kawasaki, because I will have a better idea of the level we need to achieve. This is my only race this year, so there is some pressure on me to do well, but I feel relaxed ahead of this weekend, and I'm excited about making my race debut for Kawasaki here."