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The Spa Francorchamps circuit in the Belgian Ardennes reverberated to the sound of a factory Grand Prix race bike for the first time in 16 years on Thursday, as Shinya Nakano put the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR through its paces, watched by Kawasaki riders from Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

The demonstration ride by Nakano was part of an event organised by Kawasaki Benelux, at which Kawasaki owners were given the opportunity to ride the 6.9 km Spa Francorchamps circuit, described by none other than Michael Schumacher as "without doubt the best circuit in the world."

Originally designed by Jules de Their and Henri Langlois Van Ophem, the first Spa Francorchamps circuit was a 15 km public roads track whose triangular shape took in the Belgian towns of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot. It was on this circuit that the first Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix was run back in 1924.

Shinya going through Eau Rouge

As with other former public roads circuits, the Spa Francorchamps track has been modified many times over the years, primarily to improve safety, and while the current course is only 6.9 km in length, it still retains the character of the original public roads circuit.

The most famous part of the Spa Francorchamps circuit is the Eau Rouge/Raidillon combination of corners. Having negotiated the La Source hairpin at the end of a lap, riders head downhill before being launched steeply uphill into a sweeping left-right-left combination of turns, the first of which is the Eau Rouge bend proper and the rest being the Raidillon, which includes a blind summit.

Eau Rouge close up (larger image on KRT site)

If Eau Rouge is the most famous aspect of the Spa circuit then the unpredictable weather must run it a close second; a fact that Shinya Nakano can attest to as atrocious conditions greeted the Kawasaki Racing Team as they arrived at Spa for the event.

Overnight rain that continued throughout the day meant that conditions on track were far from perfect for demonstration laps aboard Kawasaki's 240BHP Ninja ZX-RR, especially when Nakano's experience of the demanding Spa circuit was limited to two quick laps in one of the course cars.

But, unwilling to disappoint the hundreds of Kawasaki riders who'd braved the conditions to see the Ninja ZX-RR put through it's paces, Nakano donned his waterproofs, asked for full wet tyres to be fitted front and rear, and took to the track for four demonstration laps.

It was an historical moment, as no current factory Grand Prix racing motorcycle has circulated the Spa Francorchamps circuit since the last Belgian Motorcycle Grand Prix in 1990, which was won by Wayne Rainey on his way to his first 500cc world championship title.

"My first impression is that this is a real high speed circuit," said Nakano, on his return to the pits. "Since Suzuka was removed from the MotoGP calendar, we don't race on any circuit as fast as this anymore. The section through Eau Rouge and Raidillon is very impressive, even in the wet, but also a little bit scary because there is no visible run off."

"The rest of the circuit is also impressive, with some good high speed corners and changes of direction. It was enjoyable to ride despite the conditions. But, while the rest of the circuit would be good for a MotoGP race, La Source hairpin is a little too tight, and the lack of run off between La Source and Raidillon would be a problem for many riders I think."

"Conditions weren't perfect today; the fact that it was cold and wet meant that I couldn't push so hard during the demonstration laps. I'd like to try the circuit again under better conditions, because I think there is a lot to experience here. Hopefully, if Kawasaki Benelux arrange another event like this next year, I might get the chance," concluded Nakano.

With some young Kawasaki fans

Meeting fans (larger image on KRT site)

Source: MotoGP website & Kawasaki Racing Team
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