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Hopkins & West on Target for Top Ten at Sepang

By: Tasha Crook | Published 18 October 2008, 12:25 | Views: 675 | tags: motogp, kawasaki racing, john hopkins, anthony west, naoya kaneko, sepang, malaysia
John Hopkins overcame difficult track conditions at the Sepang circuit this afternoon, to qualify his Ninja ZX-RR in tenth place for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix. Anthony West trailed his Kawasaki teammate by just two tenths of a second at the end of the hour-long timed session, and will start tomorrow's 21-lap race from 13th position and the fifth row of the grid.
With rain forecast for qualifying, and mindful of the fact that the 2006 grid was decided on practice times when monsoon conditions saw the final timed session cancelled, both Kawasaki riders went out on qualifying rubber right at the end of free practice this morning. A mistake by Hopkins cost him time, but West managed to get the best from the super-sticky rubber to claim the top spot on the timesheet at the conclusion of the session.

It looked as if West's gamble with the qualifier might pay off, as heavy rain started to fall shortly after the final free practice session and continued right up to the start of qualifying. Unfortunately for the Australian, the rain disappeared and the tropical sun soon started to dry out the 5.548km Sepang track

Despite treacherous conditions making available grip unpredictable, Hopkins switched early from wets to slicks in an attempt to get a feel for the tyres before running the first of two qualifiers. The 25-year-old Kawasaki pilot wasn't able to get the best from his first qualifying tyre due to chatter, but his run on the second saw him jump up to fifth place, before he was eventually demoted to tenth by a succession of faster riders right at the end.

West continued to struggle with a lack of rear traction out of the turns during qualifying, despite changes made to the set-up of his Ninja ZX-RR during this morning's free practice session. Adopting the same approach that saw him hold off his teammate last time out at Phillip Island, West simply pinned the throttle and put his faith in the qualifying tyre. As a result, the Kawasaki pilot finished just two tenths of a second behind his teammate to secure his best grid position since the Czech Republic Grand Prix at Brno.

Both Kawasaki riders go into tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix confident of bringing their Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machines home in the top ten.

John Hopkins - #21 - 10th - 2'03.184

"The rain was so heavy ahead of qualifying that I thought Ant was going to end up on pole thanks to his fast lap this morning! Qualifying was fully wet to start with, but grip was hard to find even with the softest wet tyres on the bike. We were sliding around everywhere, which was good fun but not very productive. I switched to slicks quite early, but it was quite tricky dodging the damp patches and the grip was pretty unpredictable. My first qualifier induced some chatter in the bike, but my second qualifying run was a lot better. Unfortunately, because of the track conditions at the start, we ran out of time to stick another qualifier on the bike. I'm pretty confident I could have improved my grid position if we'd had the chance to use the last soft tyre, but that's the way it is sometimes and it was the same for everyone. The improvements we made this morning to our dry set-up mean we're pretty much on the pace, so a top ten finish is definitely on the cards for tomorrow."
Anthony West - #13 - 13th - 2'03.392

"We didn't manage to make any big improvements to our set-up this morning, so launching the bike out of the turns was still a problem during qualifying this afternoon. At the start of the session, with the track completely wet, everyone was having the same problem, but as the track started to dry out it was just me who was sideways out of the corners In the end I could only do what I did in Australia and just open the throttle and hang on. I was pretty close to John at the finish, so it seems it's not such a bad approach. If I'd had time to run my second qualifier then I might have been able to close the gap to him even further, but the conditions at the start put paid to that. It's nice to be off the back row of the grid and I think a top ten finish tomorrow is a distinct possibility. That, and beating my teammate of course, is what I'll be aiming for anyway."

Naoya Kaneko - Kawasaki Technical Manager

"The conditions this afternoon meant that neither rider was able to use their full allocation of qualifiers, otherwise I think we'd have been a bit closer to the front of the grid. We've qualified better than we did in Australia, so I'm happy about that, as starting from the back row of the grid makes everyone's job more difficult. We know we have good wet settings, and the changes we made to our dry set-up this morning improved things, so I'm pretty confident that both riders will finish tomorrow in the top ten regardless of the weather conditions."

Qualifying Times:

1. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Repsol Honda Team 2'01.548
2. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Fiat Yamaha +0.409
3. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Fiat Yamaha +0.623
4. Nicky Hayden (USA) Repsol Honda Team +0.644
5. Colin Edwards (USA) Tech 3 Yamaha +0.697
6. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA) JIR Team Scot +1.288
7. Casey Stoner (AUS) Ducati Marlboro Team +1.405
8. Loris Capirossi (ITA) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +1.530
9. Randy De Puniet (FRA) LCR Honda MotoGP +1.562
10. John Hopkins (USA) Kawasaki Racing Team +1.636
11. Chris Vermeulen (AUS) Rizla Suzuki MotoGP +1.723
12. James Toseland (GBR) Tech 3 Yamaha +1.734
13. Anthony West (AUS) Kawasaki Racing Team +1.844

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