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Superb podium for Melandri.

Marco Melandri's 2009 rebirth reached a new high at Le Mans on Sunday, when the Italian took his 'privateer' Kawasaki to second place in a dramatic wet/dry French Grand Prix.

Kawasaki achieved a best race finish of fifth as a full two-rider factory entry last season, and didn't want to be in MotoGP at all this year - having announced its withdraw in early January due to the financial crises.

However, the Japanese manufacturer reluctantly allowed the creation of an unofficial one-rider effort for Melandri, under the name of the 'Hayate Racing Team', when reminded of its contractual obligations to take part.

Nevertheless, the absence of any Kawasaki branding, colours or development programme was proof that the Japanese factory wanted to distance itself from the project as much as possible - presumably predicting, like most in the paddock, that Melandri and the new ZX-RR were in for an unrewarding season at the back of the pack.

So far, they couldn't have been more wrong.

Melandri finished sixth in only his second race on the bike, at Motegi, before matching his best finish for Ducati - and the 2008 best by Kawasaki - with fifth last time out at Jerez.

The Italian, determined to rebuild his reputation after a horrific season at Ducati, admitted on the eve of the French Grand Prix that it would be difficult to repeat his top six results - but ended up leaving Le Mans with his first podium since 2007 and equalling Kawasaki's best ever MotoGP finish.

The tricky wet/dry race conditions helped mask the dry speed of his rivals, but Melandri more than earned his podium by being one of the first to pit - on lap six of 28 - and doing better than anyone else with slick tyres on a slippery track.

Reigning six-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi, who stopped one lap before Melandri, crashed out, while race winner Jorge Lorenzo waited until lap 12 before finally making the change.

Melandri closed to within four seconds of Lorenzo as the Fiat Yamaha star got up to speed with his new bike, before concentrating Lorenzo, but over two-seconds in front of factory Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.

Related Pictures

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Melandri, French MotoGP 2009
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Barcelona Circuit of Catalunya chicane final sector
New Catalunya chicane during private test
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May 17, 2009 6:49 PM

Well done to Marco.This guy could well become the first rider ever to win a GP in the top class for Kawasaki.Lets hope the factory starts to put some effort into it and starts to help him out from now on with some support.Great result.

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