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The Kawasaki Racing Team enjoyed their most successful qualifying session to date at Le Mans this afternoon, as Shinya Nakano scorched to second place on the grid for tomorrow's race, and teammate Randy de Puniet put in a stunning performance to finish fourth fastest during the hour-long qualifying session.

Nakano dominated proceedings throughout this afternoon aboard his Ninja ZX-RR. The Kawasaki pilot snatched pole position with just 20 minutes of the session left to run and responded immediately when John Hopkins knocked him from the top spot; replying with another fastest lap to retake pole position.

With five minutes of the session remaining, Nakano underlined his dominance by improving on his own pole position time, to put him over half a second clear at the top of the timesheet.

As the flag came out to mark the end of the session, Nakano looked almost certain to secure his, and Kawasaki's, first ever pole position in the premier MotoGP class, but a late charge by Honda's Dani Pedrosa saw the Spaniard steal the top spot from Nakano by the slimmest of margins.

Although disappointed not to have held onto pole position, Nakano was happy to have secured Kawasaki their best ever qualifying position with second place on the grid, and the Japanese ace goes into tomorrow's 28-lap Grand Prix de France confident of a strong performance aboard his Ninja ZX-RR.

After two frustrating practice sessions yesterday, and a practice crash in the difficult conditions this morning, de Puniet showed his resilience by bouncing back this afternoon to claim fourth position on the grid for his home Grand Prix tomorrow.

The Kawasaki rider was holding third position on the provisional grid as the session drew to a close, but missed out on a front row start by just one tenth of a second when John Hopkins managed to improve his time on his final flying lap.

Happy with his qualifying performance, de Puniet is now focussed on tomorrow's race. The 25-year-old Frenchman was consistently in the top six on race tyres this afternoon, and is confident of a good result tomorrow, on a track that he knows intimately, and which seems to suit the characteristics of his Ninja ZX-RR perfectly.

Shinya Nakano: 2nd - 1'34.201
'Mission accomplished! I had a very good feeling during practice yesterday, so I knew a front row start was possible, but I didn't really expect to be fighting for pole position. When I saw the chequered flag I thought I'd held onto pole, but at the back of the circuit they have a big TV screen, which showed Dani stealing pole position as I rode past it on my way back to the pits. I was a bit disappointed not to take pole, but I'm happy enough with second place on the grid, and I go into tomorrow's race more confident than in recent weeks. So far the races have been difficult for us, but here we know we have a strong package in the Ninja ZX-RR and our Bridgestone tyres, so a good result is possible; maybe even a podium finish if everything goes well.'

Randy de Puniet: 4th - 1'34.780
'If someone had said to me yesterday that I'd be starting my home Grand Prix from fourth position on the grid, I wouldn't have believed them. It's fantastic. I had some problems during practice yesterday, including a crash and an unplanned trip through the gravel, and then this morning I crashed again. For sure, this is not the best way to prepare for qualifying, and I'm sure a lot of people thought I was maybe nervous racing in front of my home crowd, but this wasn't the case. This afternoon it all came together, and I had a good feeling with the bike. I was running consistently in the top six on race tyres early in the session, which gives me confidence with our tyres and our set-up for tomorrow's race. It was great to qualify fourth fastest, but now qualifying is over and I must look to follow today's performance with a good result in tomorrow's race.'

Harald Eckl: Team Principal
'The riders and the team have done a fantastic job to give us our best ever qualifying result in the MotoGP class today. Unlike some of the other circuits we've raced at so far this season, a fast lap at Le Mans is not dependant on maximum outright engine power. I think our qualifying performance today underlines that, when the conditions and circuit are right for our bike, the team and our two riders are more than capable of a strong performance. I am looking forward with confidence to the race tomorrow.'

QUALIFYING PRACTICE - FINAL TIMES
1. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda Team 1'33.990; 2. Shinya Nakano (JPN) Kawasaki Racing Team +0.211; 3. John Hopkins (USA) Team Suzuki MotoGP +0.646; 4. Randy de Puniet (FRA) Kawasaki Racing Team +0.790; 5. Marco Melandri (ITA) Fortuna Honda +0.805; 6. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Ducati Marlboro Team +0.812; 7. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Camel Yamaha Team +0.850; 8. Sete Gibernau (SPA) Ducati Marlboro Team +0.880; 9. Colin Edwards (USA) Camel Yamaha Team +0.980; 10. Nicky Hayden (USA) Repsol Honda Team +0.998

Source: Kawasaki Racing Team
 
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