The Kawasaki Racing Team were met with perfect conditions as they arrived at the Phillip Island circuit in Australia today, to start the first of three days of development testing ahead of the annual test ban, which comes into force on 1st December.
This is an important test for Kawasaki, as all the data collected during these three days in the southern hemisphere will be fed directly in the development programme for the 2009 Ninja ZX-RR, which is due to make its track debut at Sepang in February.
To increase the amount of data collected, Kawasaki’s regular MotoGP pilots were joined in Australia by test and development rider, Olivier Jacque, with the three of them clocking up more than 1000 kilometres around the Phillip Island circuit on the opening day.
Following on from the Valencia test, which was curtailed by rain on the second day, Marco Melandri used the first day of testing in Australia to continue his familiarisation with Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-RR. The 26-year-old Italian completed 93 laps of the 4.445km circuit, posting a best lap time of 1’32.5s. Melandri continued to make changes to the Ninja ZX-RR, to tailor the machine to his riding style, but was hampered today by a lack of feeling from the front end of the bike.
Melandri will work with his crew and Kawasaki’s suspension engineers overnight to improve front end feel, and is confident that if they can make steps forward in this area then lap times in the low 1’31s bracket are achievable tomorrow.
For Hopkins the first day of testing at Phillip Island was a painful one. The 25-year-old Anglo-American suffered with a painful left knee and ankle injury, sustained during a high-speed practice crash at Assen back in June. The fractured ankle was fixed with a plate after the crash, but the tendons rubbing on the metal plate every time he changed gear left Hopkins’ left leg swollen and sore after 76 laps of the Phillip Island circuit today.
Ignoring the pain, Hopkins worked closely with new crew chief, Naoya Kaneko, to make improvements to his Ninja ZX-RR throughout the day, and the Kawasaki pilot is confident of improving his lap times tomorrow.
Jacque’s main focus during the first day of testing was on evaluating a revised chassis and new electronics package on the Ninja ZX-RR. The 35-year-old former world champion tested the new chassis, which features revised geometry, for the first time during the morning session, but was quickly able to match the lap times achieved on the machine that his two teammates were testing.
Jacque is confident that the new chassis offers many advantages over the old; a point he is keen to prove by reducing his lap times around the 4.445km Phillip Island circuit tomorrow, once he’s had more time to refine the set-up of his Ninja ZX-RR to suit the characteristics of the new chassis.
#21 – 76 Laps – Best Lap 1’33.3
“We ride a lot more during testing than we do on a race weekend, and that has caused me some problems today. The left knee and ankle I damaged in the crash at Assen has been really painful. Every time I change gear the tendons in my ankle rub across the metal plate that was inserted to fix the bones, and this causes the ankle to swell up a lot. My knee also kept locking out, especially on the left-hand corners, so I’m not in great physical shape. Having said that, it’s been good working with my new crew chief, Naoya. We communicate together very well and we’ve definitely made some improvements to the bike. Naoya is very methodical in his approach, but he also has a fresh way of looking at the problems and, as a result, we’ve made some big steps forward already. Now I just need more time on track, injuries permitting. Phillip Island has always been a difficult circuit for me, and I’ve never had a good result here, so the more time I can get on track over the final two days of testing the better.”
#19 – 85 Laps – Best Lap 1’32.4
“Today we’ve focussed on evaluating a new chassis on the Ninja ZX-RR, with positive results. This morning I was able to match my lap times on the older bike very quickly, but I think that at this point we are only using around 80% of the potential of the new chassis. With more set-up time tomorrow I hope we can get closer to using 100% of this potential and reduce our lap times as a result. We’re also working with a revised electronics package on the bike, which gives us more options for fine-tuning the power delivery characteristics, and again the initial results have been positive. We will continue to work on refining the system over the next two days, and collecting the data necessary for further development back in Japan.”