Randy de Puniet talks about his MotoGP adaptation
Randy de Puniet has repaid Kawasaki's confidence in his ability by adapting quickly to the Ninja ZX-RR during winter testing, and is keen to prove himself worthy of a position on the MotoGP grid when the 2006 season gets underway at Jerez on 26th March. This extensive interview gives us the inside track on the Frenchman´s adaption to MotoGP.
This will be your rookie season in MotoGP, but what does stepping up to the world's premier motorcycle racing series mean to you as a rider?
For me it is a big step up to MotoGP, because this is the best class, with the top riders and the fastest bikes. It's what every racer aims for. It's a fantastic opportunity for me; to be riding a factory Kawasaki against the best riders in the world, and I hope that I can repay the faith that the team have shown in me this year.
What were your first thoughts when you were approached by Kawasaki about the possibility of a MotoGP ride?
I couldn't believe it; It was like a dream come true for me. I was in the middle of a difficult season in the 250cc World Championship, so to suddenly find myself with an offer of a factory MotoGP bike for 2006 was incredible.
It must have been good for you to go into the winter break having already secured a ride for the 2006 season.
Definitely. Knowing exactly where I would be riding in 2006 meant that I was able to focus completely on preparing myself for the coming season. Since we finished the test in Sepang at the end of November, all I've had to worry about is my preparations for the coming season. And this has paid off for me, because I was 100% prepared when we returned to Sepang in January for the first pre-season test aboard the new Ninja ZX-RR.
Did you follow a specific training programme over the winter months?
I've always trained hard, but this year I've been following a programme developed by Kawasaki's sports performance expert, Dr. Tony Head. I flew to England at the end of last season where Tony did a full physical assessment on me, and from that he produced a detailed training programme for me to follow over the winter.
He's also prepared a training schedule that I can follow during the race season that won't leave me tired for the races. Last year I trained and played a lot of sport between races, and I couldn't understand why I was starting to feel tired halfway through the season. Tony has explained that you need to give your body time to recover and that it's not possible to ride at 100% and then train at 100% between races. So, to make sure I'm at my peak during the season, Tony has come up with a training plan that includes recovery periods. It must have been a big step switching from a lightweight 250cc two-stroke machine to the four-stroke Ninja ZX-RR. Are there any similarities between the two?
None at all. Everything is different. The only thing they have in common is that they both have two wheels with an engine in the middle! My first impression of the Ninja ZX-RR was that I couldn't believe how good the bike was, it really is the ultimate racing motorcycle. After riding a MotoGP bike for the first time I didn't ever want to ride any other type of bike again. The sheer power of the Ninja ZX-RR is just incredible, and it is a fantastic experience to ride it.
Like all the MotoGP machines, the Ninja ZX-RR uses quite a sophisticated electronics package. How much easier have the electronic aids, like traction and wheelie control, made adapting your riding style to suit a MotoGP bike? For sure we have some complex electronic systems on the bike, not just to control traction and wheelies, but also to control how the engine makes it's power. To be honest, this bike makes so much power that, without these electronic controls, I think it would be pretty hard, if not impossible, to ride it. But the electronics, like the suspension and chassis, have to be set up for the characteristics of each circuit. How difficult is it to find the right set-up when there are so many parameters that you can change?
The MotoGP bike is definitely more difficult to set up than the 250cc machine, but that's what testing is for. During testing we're looking for a good base set-up that we can then modify slightly to suit the characteristics of each different circuit. Most of the time this works, but sometimes we get a problem at a particular track that we have to work through. This is where the experience of your crew is important, because you have to work very closely with them to find a solution in the small amount of time you have for practice and qualifying.
Is there an area of the bike where you feel development should be concentrated? At this moment I'm not using the full potential of the bike, because I'm still adapting my riding style to compensate for the extra power and the unique characteristics of a MotoGP machine. At this point I think it's more important to concentrate on improving my riding ahead of the coming season than to start thinking about the development of specific areas.
Both yourself and your Kawasaki teammate, Shinya Nakano, came up through the 250cc ranks, but how similar are your riding styles and set-up on the bikes, and do you share information on settings and tyres between you?
My riding style is a little different to Shinya's, so we don't tend to use identical settings on the bike. We also position ourselves differently on the bike, and this obviously has an effect on set-up. But, the fact that we're roughly the same size and weight means that, so far, our settings on the bike haven't been too far apart.
We do share information in the pit box, and we do tend to use the same tyres as well.
Do you think having someone as experienced as Shinya for a teammate will help you develop as a MotoGP rider this season?
For sure, having Shinya as a teammate is a big advantage for me. He is a former 250cc rider who made the switch to MotoGP, so he knows what it's like for me at the moment. He's a good teammate; he's easy to get along with and quite open about what he's trying on the bike. I'm sure I will learn a lot from him this season.
What are your aims for your first season in MotoGP?
My goal is to give 100% in every race this season, and to learn more every time I go out on track. I have a good target to aim for with Shinya and I hope that, as the season progresses, I will be able to close the gap on him. I think we have good potential - the bike, the team and myself - and I think it's possible for us to score some good results this season. But, as I said, most important for me is to learn at every race, and to do this I must finish every time; a big crash would lose me valuable learning time.
This is your first year on Bridgestone tyres. How have you found working with the Bridgestone guys during winter testing?
It's good for me, because I've never had a tyre technician working so closely alongside the team. They are all good guys and they certainly know what they're talking about when it comes to tyre performance. Tyres are critical in MotoGP and it's good to have a company like Bridgestone behind us who are so committed to competing at the top level. I have had a real good feeling from the Bridgestone tyres so far this year.
Does the fact that you're the only French rider in MotoGP put additional pressure on you to do well, especially at your home race in Le Mans?
For sure there is some expectation from the French fans for me to do well this year, especially at Le Mans. This does increase the pressure, but it's good pressure, because it helps to know you have the support of the fans. I've finished on the podium four times at Le Mans before, but I need to be realistic about my first home race in MotoGP. Yes, I want to put in a good performance, but I also need to think about my aims for the whole season, not just one race.
Which is your favourite circuit on the MotoGP calendar?
It's hard to pick just one; I like the really fast tracks like Jerez, Mugello, Catalunya and Brno. I think Jerez is a particular favourite, because it's a technical circuit but the final section is very fast and really exciting to ride.
What is the best part of being a MotoGP rider?
The best part by far is that you get to ride the fastest motorcycles in the world. What could be better than that?