2007-10-18 22:42
Typically hot, humid weather greeted the arrival of the MotoGP paddock to Sepang as the first practice sessions of the Malaysian Grand Prix took place today at the 5.55km circuit, near Kuala Lumpur.

The Kawasaki Racing Team's resident French speed demon, Randy de Puniet, launched himself in to the spirit of things straight away, with an impressive performance in the morning session, resulting in his coming fifth fastest on the time sheets.

However, his efforts in the afternoon saw the 26-year-old taking his 800cc ZX-RR to the top of the leader boards, finishing the day with a best time of 2'02.917 after 17 laps. De Puniet claimed the lead just over half way in to the hour-long session and even this year's new world champion, Casey Stoner, whilst able to close in, had to settle for second, unable to catch up.

Only four riders were able to come within a second of de Puniet's time and his team mate, Anthony West, having a similarly good day at Sepang, was one of them. He ended the second practice in fifth place, with a best run of 2'03.825.

It seems that his earlier concerns at not knowing the circuit as well as the rest of the MotoGP field, who practice here during winter (West only joined MotoGP in June), may be unfounded. With only Stoner, Marco Melandri and Dani Pedrosa separating the 26-year-old Australian and his fellow Ninja rider, West showed today he's more than capable of running with or, indeed, faster than, many more experienced premier class pilots.

With both Kawasakis looking so strong, and their Bridgestone tyres offering plenty of reassuring grip on the newly-resurfaced track, the weekend has got off to an excellent start for the squad, who hope to continue in this vein during tomorrow's practice and qualifying sessions and on into Sunday's 21-lap race.

Randy de Puniet: #14 - 1st - Best Lap 2'02.917

"During the first part of the practice session the track conditions weren't so easy, which is why I stayed in the pits, but I went out on track after about 20 minutes. The surface was becoming dry and I feel I did a good job. I tried a hard compound race tyre, which gave me a really good feeling, so I'm pleased with that, and I did some really good, consistent lap times so it's not been such a bad day! I think we can improve the bike a little bit for tomorrow but I think, for the first day, we've not done badly."

Anthony West: #13 - 5th - Best Lap 2'03.825

"It was my first time here on this bike and I'm really pleased with the way it went today. The track's okay but there are some slippery areas which never seem to completely dry out and, while grip's not perfect, it should get better over the weekend when the surface gets some more rubber laid down on it. However, my tyres have been feeling pretty good. At Phillip Island, I had a lot of problems with the rear but today I had loads more grip, so things have already improved and hopefully we can keep getting better tomorrow."

Christophe Bourguignon: De Puniet's Crew Chief

"Conditions this morning meant the new surface was really slippery so we couldn't really set up our machine. The lap times were really slow and we decided not to touch the bike during lunchtime, keeping the morning set up to see what it would do when it was drier. At the beginning of the afternoon session, the track was still not completely dry so we decided that Randy would stay in for the first 20 minutes. The weather is due to be bad tomorrow so we planned for him to do just two, long runs on two different-spec race tyres, so we could get a thorough evaluation of them. Obviously we will slightly adjust the set up: the mapping, engine braking and suspension, but it looks like both Randy and the bike are at a good level after only one day."

Practice Times:
1. Randy De Puniet (FRA) Kawasaki Racing Team 2'02.917; 2. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati Marlboro Team +0.011; 3. Marco Melandri (ITA) Honda Gresini +0.744; 4. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda Team +0.850; 5. Anthony West (AUS) Kawasaki Racing Team +0.908; 6. Toni Elias (SPA) Honda Gresini +1.114; 7. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Tech 3 Yamaha +1.177; 8. Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +1.538; 9. John Hopkins (USA) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +1.577; 10. Nicky Hayden (USA) Repsol Honda Team +1.835

Source: Kawasaki Racing Team Press Office

Click here to visit our forums to discuss this story