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Kawasaki’s presence in MotoGP is just the works team. Kawasaki has been back in GP racing for three full seasons now, with appearances of the early ZX-RR in 2002.


Pitt on ’02 ZX-RR

The first full year, 2003, was a ‘toe-in-the-water’ job to show their faces in the 990cc four stroke prototype class. Basically they ended up making up the numbers with riders Garry McCoy and Andrew Pitt struggling with unwieldy bikes that were spectacular to watch, due to Garry’s sideways, wheel spinning, tyre smoking antics, powering out of corners. Basically they just did not hack it with the more experienced teams in the field, due to their inability to put down the available power, partly due to chassis & partly tyres.


McCoy on ’03 ZX-RR

For 2004 the Harald Eckl managed team introduced a new improved chassis and bodywork and also Bridgestone tyres to replace Dunlop. New riders for 2004 were Shinya Nakano & Alex Hofmann. Alex had done some wildcard rides in the previous season and performing well compared to the regular riders. During the ’04 season the ZX-RR started to make its presence felt with Shinya scoring their first podium in the class in Japan, with a third, finishing the season with Shinya tenth in the championship.


Hofmann on ’04 ZX-RR

The riders for 2005 season are Shinya Nakano and Alex Hofmann full time, with Olivier Jacque as part time third rider and test rider. The biggest development this year has been the ‘big bang’ engine which has the firing order reconfigured to improve mid-range power. Shinya has put in some impressive rides, with a best finish of fifth but best so far has been OJ with second in China, Shinya’s bike conking out in the wet conditions. In fact Shinya’s season has been marred by three breakdowns and being barged off the track by a desperate Gibernau.


OJ on ’05 ZX-RR

Kawasaki consolidated 2005 with solid results from Shinya Nakano, 10th in Istanbul and 11th in the final race at Valencia, to once again claim 10th in the rider’s championship. Meanwhile Olivier Jacque had another outing at Istanbul for 13th place to finish 17th in the championship despite only scoring in three races, the 2nd place in China boosting his overall standing somewhat.


Nakano on ’05 ZX-RR

Alex Hofmann managed to get in a final race for the team at Valencia finishing 14th, with just 19th in the championship after a season disrupted by injury. He was given a friendly send off by the team, to be replaced for 2006 by Frenchman Randy De Puniet, who has previously raced in 250 GP’s. Randy (number 17) had his first taste of the ZX-RR during test sessions the week after the final race at Valencia, putting in plenty of familiarisation laps.

The season was rounded off by three days testing at Sepang at the end of November, just prior to the Winter testing ban. Riding the first prototype of the 2006 Ninja ZX-RR, Shinya set the sixth fastest time of the test with a lap of 2'02.93 late on the final day. He completed 152 laps over three days despite being hampered by bruised ligaments in his left hand, an injury suffered at Valencia. Meanwhile rookie Randy, made a strong showing with a best lap of 2'04.27 covering 183 laps, mostly on the ’05 bike to further familiarise himself, finally having 10 laps on the ’06 spec bike.

Kawasaki has announced Naoki Matsudo as an additional test rider for the team as well as Olivier Jacque. Naoki has previous MotoGP experience, last year racing the Moriwaki as a wildcard in Japan plus racing in 250 GP’s.

MotoGP ‘06: new season, new bike!

For 2006 virtually the whole bike is new, with many parts being finally selected as testing progresses.

The most significant change is the more compact layout of the engine to allow the mass to be centralised as much as possible, in line with other MotoGP bikes, thus allowing quicker turn in, compared to the ’05 bike. The frame is now being made in-house by Kawasaki to suit the more compact layout, with the tank and seat unit also being totally redesigned, all to optimise weight distribution plus additional modifications for the bodywork to suit new layouts.

The engine has been tilted forward, which has allowed a longer swinging arm without increasing the wheelbase and also a straighter path for the intakes into the cylinder head. The alternator has also been moved from the end of the crankshaft to an indirect drive position above the cases. The crank appears to have been modified from standard to allow differing firing orders, as the ’05 big bang engine, despite improved grip levels, was causing gear damage & slipper clutch set up difficulties.

Also Kawasaki are using different arrangements of ‘intelligent’ throttle control, in ’05 three were manual & one ECU controlled, there is evidence that they will go the way of other teams and run a two manual, two ECU system in ’06. These help with engine braking, traction & launch control. Another change is that the Ohlins rear shock is 50mm shorter which will allow other hardware or fuel to be mounted lower in the frame.

So far testing in Sepang shows Shinya well in touch with the fastest bikes, only the works Ducati’s and one Honda bettering his time of 2’01.27 and Randy producing an eighth fastest of 2’02.18, though Kawasaki Racing have listed Shinya’s time as 2’01.27, the MotoGP website shows a slower 2’01.70, though these are listed as unofficial on the latter site. There is further pre-season testing at Phillip Island and Sepang which will hopefully confirm Kawasaki’s improvements over the Winter and fast times at Sepang.

The MotoGP season opener is 26th March at Jerez, Spain.

Henry (Shortcircuit)
Photos: Australian Bike Grand Prix website
 

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Thoughs are some great pictures, and a good write up along with it!!!
 
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