Don't expect Marco Melandri and Hayate to 'do a Brawn' in the MotoGP season opener at Qatar on April 12, but the Jerez pace of the former factory Kawasaki team was undoubtedly encouraging.
Like Brawn GP, Hayate has been born out of the ashes of an under-achieving factory team, which withdrew for financial reasons over the winter. Unlike Brawn GP, Hayate has not been able to exploit radical new rules to gain a surprise edge, or insert a more competitive engine.
Instead the team will run the latest version of Kawasaki's ZX-RR, with minimal development and support, but it just might be competitive.
After finishing 16th and last on his Hayate debut at the previous Qatar test, Melandri left the final pre-season test twelfth out of the 19 riders present.
The Italian's best lap may have been 1.759sec slower than former team-mate Casey Stoner, but he was just 0.004sec behind his Ducati successor Nicky Hayden and within 0.26sec of sixth placed Mika Kallio.
Kawasaki's best race finish last season was fifth, by both Anthony West and John Hopkins.
Melandri's 1min 40.405sec lap time was also 1.33sec faster than he'd managed on the factory Desmosedici GP8 in last season's Spanish Grand Prix, held at the same circuit almost exactly one year ago.
“It was a good test for me, after Qatar where we struggled a lot,” the official MotoGP website reports Melandri as saying. “We worked hard between then and now, and here we concentrated on improving the setup. We're not far from the middle group, so it's quite good.”
Melandri's team manager Andrea Dosoli revealed that the team had received new parts from Kawasaki and can count on some development, at least in terms of 'problem solving'.
“We arrived here with new parts and proved that they were beneficial. We fixed some issues that we had with the rear of the bike,” he said. “From now on the factory will keep producing parts and maintaining the engine for the season. If we have any problems, they will support us. I have confidence in them.”
Hopkins, who expected to be partnering Melandri at the factory Kawasaki team this season, will instead make his WSBK debut this weekend in Valencia.
Melandri has previously stated that his aim for the 2009 season is to rebuild his reputation after a disastrous year at Ducati, and secure a competitive seat for 2010.