Since we started Monday off with an ultra hi-res gallery of Valentino Rossi’s 2006 Yamaha YZR-M1, we thought it would be a good bookend to the work-week to conclude with some more hi-res shots of another MotoGP race bike: Randy de Puniet’s 2006 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR. One of those bikes that never really shined in MotoGP, the ZX-RR scored only a modest number of podiums before Kawasaki finally bowed-out of MotoGP, mid-championship in 2008.
Leaving Marco Melandri holding the bag, the Kawasaki racing effort lived on in spirit as the Hayate Racing Team, where the team impressed many in the paddock with its results and limited resources. Absent completely from GP racing from 2009 to 2011, the closest we have to Team Green in the premier class now is the Avintia Blusens Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R powered CRT entry, which just took the honors of Top CRT in the Indianapolis GP.
Like Rossi’s 2006 Yamaha, RdP’s Kawasaki probably doesn’t hold the fondest memories for the Frenchman. His first ride in the premier-class, there is at least some irony in the very green rider (experience-wise) riding the Green Machine.
As Kawasaki has faded out of GP racing, and only exists in CRT form, De Puniet has come into his own as a rider, though through unfortunate circumstance has found his underrated riding skills relegated to Team Aspar’s Aprilia ART CRT — instead of factory-supported bike, like the ZX-RR seen here…which, if you haven’t already noticed, is actually a hyper-accurate scale model of the the real thing.
On Wednesday, Motorcycle News reported that Ezpeleta did not believe that Aspar would take on the responsibility of directing a private Kawasaki team, the speculation on that statement is now over as Aspar today confirmed that he would not be heading such a team, as the basic needs of his organization could not be made. As we reported earlier, the deal-breaker for Aspar was the requirement to have a Spanish rider on one of the bikes. This is because the Barcelona based team, has Spanish sponsors that need to be able to justify their advertising dollars. Another deal-breaker that came out of the talks was the fact Kawasaki’s involvement at this point in time is still short-term.
Kawasaki has committed themselves to racing in MotoGP through 2011 in a contract with Dorna. Dorna had offered Team Green a way out of that contract if the were willing to provide bikes for the 2009 season, thus keeping MotoGP’s status as a championship series in the eyes of the FIM. But Aspar et al are looking for a long-term involvement in MotoGP, thus a one-year deal would more likely hinder their long-term plans than help them. Faced with these problems, the deal fell apart, and here we are.
This leaves Michael Bartholemy, manager of the Factory Kawasaki team, as the last great hope to keeping the green bikes on the grid. From ,there is the possibility of a French company providing technical assistance in bike maintenance and development. However, now it seems more like that former MotoGP contender, British firm Ilmor, will take up this role.
The 2008 ZX-RR Ninja has a unique problem, it makes plenty of power, but has an extremely hard time getting that power down to the wheels in a way that is usable for the rider. Both John Hopkins and Anthony West complained of a lack of rear wheel traction, as well as a lack of front-end feel, making it impossible to take advantage of the Kawasaki’s potent engine. Unless Bartholemy can find someone to help him work on the chassis, then any attempt at reviving the project may be doomed before it even gets off the ground.
Reports are showing that Kawasaki is about to resume its testing, with Olivier Jacque taking laps at Phillip Island on the 2009 ZX-RR. The French rider is at the Eastern Creek circuit near Sydney for a test on the ZX-RR, which was being developed for John Hopkins and Marco Melandri for the 2009 season. Jacque will be testing an all new in-line four-cylinder motor and revised chassis at the Eastern Creek test, starting this Saturday.
After Eastern Creek, the test team will then move down to the Phillip Island for further testing and development. This news and commitment from Kawasaki adds further credence to the reports that we will see them, in some form or another, on the grid during the 2009 season. Kawasaki MotoGP manager, Michael Bartholemy, has been strongly linked with the rescue package, though he has yet to make any official comment on the future plans of Kawasaki and its withdrawal late last year.