A revitalised Kawasaki Racing Team will get their 2007 MotoGP campaign underway on Monday, with the first of two planned pre-season tests at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia.
This week is the start of an extensive test programme that will see the Kawasaki Racing Team complete 12 intensive days of testing in three different countries, as they work to refine the all-new 800cc ZX-RR ahead of the season opening Grand Prix of Qatar in March.
The Sepang test marks a new era, both for the MotoGP World Championship and for the Kawasaki Racing Team.
For the first time all five major manufacturers will field their 800cc machines at the same circuit, providing all the teams with their first opportunity to make direct comparisons with their rivals for the MotoGP World Championship title.
Sepang is also the first test in which the Kawasaki Racing Team will participate since the team was taken in-house by the Japanese manufacturer in November last year. Under the guidance of Kawasaki's new racing director, Ichiro Yoda, the team have worked tirelessly during the winter break to put in place the infrastructure necessary to support Kawasaki's MotoGP racing activities.
The process of working together to overcome many obstacles, and to meet increasingly tight deadlines, has resulted in a much more cohesive unit, which means that the team arrive in Sepang with higher expectations, and a higher level of morale, than in previous seasons.
But, while there is definitely a new air of optimism within the Kawasaki pit box, nobody is under any illusions about the task that faces them in the run up to the 2007 MotoGP season. Initial shakedown tests of the new 800cc Ninja ZX-RR at the end of last year showed the bike's potential, but it also highlighted areas where development effort needed to be focussed in order to improve the overall package.
Work on the new bike has continued unabated during the winter test ban, and the Kawasaki Racing Team head into the first test of the new year confident that the development of the ZX-RR is on target, and with the clear goal of matching their factory rivals on the track by the time the test concludes on Wednesday.
Kawasaki's riders, Randy de Puniet and Olivier Jacque, know exactly what is expected of them during the three days of testing in Malaysia. With limited track time aboard the new 800cc Ninja ZX-RR up to this point, the two Frenchmen must familiarise themselves with the characteristics of the new bike, while also providing Kawasaki's engineers with the data necessary to continue the development process back in Japan.
It will be a tough task for de Puniet and Jacque, but both riders arrive in Sepang refreshed after the winter break, and eager to get the new season underway with a positive first test.
Randy de Puniet: #14
"Let's go! After nearly two months off the bike I can't wait to get started again. I tested the new bike only very briefly at the end of last year, but it was enough to understand that it is a very different machine to the 990cc bike we raced in 2006, and that it demands a completely different riding style to get the best from it. I don't think there will be any problems adapting to the characteristics of the 800cc Ninja ZX-RR, but I guess we'll find out over the next three days. Obviously I want to end the test close to the fastest guys, but I'll be relatively happy if we leave here with a good base set-up and a better understanding of how to get the best from the bike at this circuit."
Olivier Jacque: #19
"It's good to be back full time in MotoGP with Kawasaki, and I'm definitely looking forward to the season ahead. For this test we will concentrate on finding a good base set-up for the new bike, but this will also be the first time I've worked with my new crew chief, Fiorenzo Fanali, so it will be an ideal opportunity for us both to check each other out and to find the best way of working together. As I said, the bike is new, so we will also be looking to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the new Ninja ZX-RR, so that we can pass this information back to the development engineers in Kawasaki's race department in Japan. My first impression of the bike when we tested it in November was that it's like a 250cc machine in feel, but with a lot more power. During the next three days I need to refine that assessment so that we can figure out how to take advantage of the unique characteristics of the 800cc machine."
Ichiro Yoda: Kawasaki Racing Director
"The fact that we are here in Sepang and all ready to start the new season is down to a lot of hard work by everyone involved in Kawasaki's MotoGP project. Our team members in Europe have cooperated closely with Kawasaki's European subsidiary to ensure that we have the infrastructure necessary to support our racing activities, while Kawasaki's engineers in Japan have worked long hours to develop our new 800cc ZX-RR into a competitive package with which to start the season. This cooperation between the many elements that make up the Kawasaki family has produced a strong team, which I'm sure will pay dividends for us in the future. Now we must focus on the next month of testing if we are to realise the full potential of our 800cc machine ready for the first race in Qatar. Our goals for the next three days are clear. Firstly we must find a base set-up on the new bike that both riders are happy with, and then we will start the refinement process based on the riders' feedback and analysis of the data downloaded from the bike. At this stage of the season our first priority must be our development schedule, but I see no reason why we shouldn't be aiming for a high position on the final timesheet by the end of these three days."