French GP: Kawasaki Racing Team preview

FONSI NIETO TO STAND IN FOR INJURED JACQUE AT LE MANS After the withdrawal of his teammate, Olivier Jacque, due to an injury sustained in Shanghai two weeks ago, Randy de Puniet will be joined this weekend by Kawasaki World Superbike rider,...

FONSI NIETO TO STAND IN FOR INJURED JACQUE AT LE MANS

After the withdrawal of his teammate, Olivier Jacque, due to an injury sustained in Shanghai two weeks ago, Randy de Puniet will be joined this weekend by Kawasaki World Superbike rider, Fonsi Nieto, for the forthcoming Alice Grand Prix of France race at Le Mans.

The former 250cc world championship sparring partners will join together, leading their assault on the world famous, 4.18km French circuit on the ever-evolving Kawasaki 800cc Ninja ZX-RR.

The demanding track brings the MotoGP championship back to Europe in what is, for Frenchman de Puniet, his home race, where he will hope to improve on the two eighth places which represent his highest placements of the season so far.

He will also be hoping to conquer the demons that saw him pushed off the track in last year's race: a hugely disappointing result, especially after his strong performance in qualifying which saw him start from fourth position on the grid.

With an emphasis on tight, first-gear corners and late braking, Le Mans represents a different sort of challenge after the long straights of China's Shanghai circuit. However, with the enthusiastic support of a home crowd, further improvements to the Ninja ZX-RR and his confidence-inspiring Bridgestone tyres, Randy aims to put in a great performance at the track, 200km south west of Paris. In Olivier's absence, he will be the only French factory rider on the grid for the 28-lap race.

Former 250cc world championship racer, Fonsi Nieto, will ride as a temporary replacement for the injured Olivier Jacque, who suffered a deep laceration to his right arm at Shanghai. It will be an exciting but challenging weekend for the 28-year-old Spaniard whose first ride of the ZX-RR will be during this Friday's free practice session. However, he was extremely successful in the 250cc series, which included a win in the French Grand Prix in 2002, so knows the Le Mans Bugatti circuit well. As a result, the team are optimistic he will soon get up to speed on what will be his first MotoGP ride.

The Kawasaki squad are hoping for a successful weekend while Jacque, undergoing intensive physiotherapy for his injuries, aims to be back in action for the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello in a fortnight's time.

De Puniet:
"I am really excited about racing in Le Mans again this weekend. With its stop and go nature, it's not the most suitable track for my riding style but I have always been fast there and racing in front of my home crowd always gives me a boost. I finished on the podium there in my last four years in 250cc, although I don't have such good memories of last year's race, my first in MotoGP at home. I qualified fourth, my best grid position so far in MotoGP, and I was feeling really positive but it didn't last long as my race ended at the first corner when Rossi crashed into me... I hope nothing like that happens this time! I'm going to France with a lot of confidence after the improvements Kawasaki have made in the last two races, and the Bridgestone tyres' performance, which enabled me to get my best MotoGP results so far. We are working hard and I am sure that this weekend will see another step forward in the development of the Ninja ZX-RR. I will do my utmost, as I always do, to get my best MotoGP result in front of all my home fans."

Nieto, Kawasaki MotoGP Replacement Rider:
"I am so excited to be riding for the Kawasaki Racing Team this weekend and can only thank Kawasaki, as they have treated me so well since I became one of their riders two years ago. However, it's a shame I come here as a replacement for Olivier as I have huge respect for him. No rider wants to act as a replacement, as none of us want to be replaced, but these things happen. I am quite familiar with Le Mans and, even if it is a ‘stop-and-go' track, it's not a difficult one. I like it. I won there in 2002, when I was riding in 250cc, but I am aware that it's going to be different this time. I am not in 250cc anymore and I had to change my riding style when I moved to the Superbikes. I don't know what it's going to be like on a MotoGP bike but it's certainly going to be a great experience for me! New category, new bike, new tyres… I will have to get used to them all as quickly as I can although, realistically, it will be almost impossible to learn it all in just two days of practice. Still, I am really looking forward to trying the Ninja ZX-RR 800cc as I have heard a lot about it and many people say riding it is similar to riding a 250. Anyway, we will be busy and I will work as hard as I can for the team throughout the weekend, with the target of finishing the race. These people are trusting me and I will try my best not to let them down."

Bartholemy, Kawasaki Competition Manager:
"We wanted to give Olivier as much time as possible to recover from his injuries, which is why we have waited until now to make the decision not to run him at Le Mans. He wants to race but it's not physically possible for him to do so because the scar is still too fragile and this is limiting the mobility in his arm. So, he won't race in France but, instead, will focus on regaining full fitness for Mugello. Obviously, knowing Olivier might not be fit to race, we've spent some time looking at possible replacement riders and, to be honest, there really was only one option. Fonsi is already part of the Kawasaki family and, although he'll be making his MotoGP debut this weekend, he is certainly no stranger to the Grand Prix paddock or the circuit. Sure, coming in cold with no time to test the bike before Friday's opening practice session will be tough but I'm confident he will adapt quickly to the demands of competing in motorcycle racing's premier class and I hope that he will enjoy racing Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR at Le Mans."

-credit: kawasaki

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About this article
Series MotoGP
Drivers Olivier Jacque , Randy de Puniet , Fonsi Nieto