MOTOGP » Randy de Puniet
Randy de Puniet has been involved with motorcycles since he was old enough to walk. At three-years-of-age the young Frenchman first threw his leg over a motorcycle, with his race debut coming just three years later at the tender age of six years.
After winning back-to-back titles in the French National 125cc Championship in 1997 and 1998, de Puniet made his Grand Prix debut as a wild-card entry at the 1998 Grand Prix.
His performance in his first world championship race was enough to secure the young Frenchman a full time ride in the championship the following year.
In 2001 de Puniet moved up to the quarter-litre class aboard a customer specification Aprilia 250cc machine. Two podiums on a non-factory bike the following season were enough to convince Aprilia to give Randy a factory bike for 2003, and he repaid them with his debut grand prix win in that season's Catalunya Grand Prix.
Having secured 5 wins, 22 podiums and 9 pole positions during his time in the 250cc World Championship, de Puniet was signed by Kawasaki at the end of the 2005 season to step up to the MotoGP class, where he rode a Ninja ZX-RR alongside Shinya Nakano in 2006.
The 25-year-old Frenchman showed flashes of speed during his debut season, in which he qualified fourth for his home race at Le Mans and took a best finish of 10th.
With Nakano moving on for 2007, and replaced by test rider Olivier Jacque (himself later replaced by Anthony West) de Puniet found himself in the role of team leader. Kawasaki's first 800cc motorcycle was also drawing compliments from throughout the field, and the pressure began to mount for de Puniet to produce.
Randy undoubtedly had the raw speed to succeed - he qualified in the top six on nine occasions - but was he also crashed frequently, failing to reach the finish seven times from 18 races. de Puniet finally scored his debut MotoGP podium at round 15, the Japanese Grand Prix, but by then he had already surprised Kawasaki by signing for the satellite Honda LCR outfit, for whom he had previously ridden in 250.
Some highly promising pre-season testing pace had pundits predicting a podium appearance for de Puniet in 2008, but it turned out to be a disappointing year for the #14. Randy’s continued one lap pace saw him qualify in the top six on ten occasions, but his best race finish was a sixth at Laguna Seca and he failed to reach the flag on five occasions, leaving him just 16th in the final championship standings and the lowest ranked RC212V rider.
Nevertheless, LCR kept their belief in de Puniet and he returned in 2009 a far more consistent rider. The Frenchman failed to score points just twice and claimed his first RCV podium with third place at a damp Donington Park on his way to eleventh in the championship.
Staying with LCR Honda, de Puniet began 2010 as something of a revelation in the opening rounds as his performances, particularly in qualifying, saw him dicing with the factory teams. However, his season was detrimentally interrupted by a nasty leg injury sustained in the German Grand Prix and while he returned to action swiftly, it took time for him to find his best form again, consigning him to ninth.
Even so, this remained his best overall finish in MotoGP, so it was a surprise that de Puniet ventured to pastures new in 2011 as LCR placed its faith in newly-crowned Moto2 champion Toni Elias. As such, de Puniet found a home at Pramac Ducati, where he showed respectable testing pace alongside fellow Desmosedici debutant Valentino Rossi.
However, the season would become a career nadir for de Puniet as a mixture of poor luck, uncompetitive machinery and frustrating accidents consigned him to the lower reaches of the points. Leaving him 16th, ahead of only his team-mate Loris Capirossi, it was an unhappy year for de Puniet.
Though linked with a return to LCR, itself looking to regain its reputation after a poor year with Elias at the helm, de Puniet would land at Aspar for 2012, spearheading its foray into the CRT ranks.
One of two existing MotoGP riders making the switch to CRT machinery alongside Colin Edwards, de Puniet would benefit from Aspar’s decision to acquire a pair of Aprilia-engineered ART chassis’, comfortably the most competitive CRT machine on the grid.
However, despite having the edge of the rest of the CRT competitors, de Puniet still had to contend with Aspar team-mate Aleix Espargaro, who was also revelling in having a quick machine beneath him. Despite the gulf of experience between them in de Puniet’s favour, it was the Frenchman that would struggle to mount a consistent ‘CRT title’ challenge.
In the end, five DNFs (compared to Espargaro’s two) would prove de Puniet’s undoing as he settled for the unofficial runners-up spot. Despite this, de Puniet, along with Espargaro, will stay at Aspar in 2013 to defend its honour against an increased field of rivals.