The Fuchs Kawasaki Team will celebrate the first anniversary of the debut of the ambitious Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP project in the Pacific Grand Prix at Motegi this Sunday.

One year ago at the Japanese track, the 990cc in-line four-cylinder ZX-RR made its international race debut in the Pacific GP, ridden by factory test rider Akira Yanagawa. The Japanese star qualified 18th, but crashed out of the race.

For Sunday's first anniversary outing, the Ninja ZX-RR will be raced by Kawasaki's all-Australian squad of regular MotoGP riders Andrew Pitt and Garry McCoy, who are well aware that the race is an important milestone for Kawasaki, who this year returned to GP competition after an absence of two decades. It has been a steep learning curve as Kawasaki balanced the challenging task of combining a test and development programme with the non-stop pressure of a grand prix race schedule, but that programme should deliver the latest engine power update parts for the ZX-RR's first birthday appearance at Motegi.

The Pacific GP carries added significance as a home race for Kawasaki, with the Japanese motorcycle and industrial giant committed to the long term success of its MotoGP campaign at the elite level of the sport. For Pitt and McCoy, the race is round 13 of the world championship, with the end of season 'flyaway' schedule allowing both riders the rare opportunity of a brief stopover in Australia following the recent Rio GP in Brazil.

In Rio two weeks ago, McCoy posted the best Kawasaki qualifying performance of the season to start 13th - and he is planning to capitalise on that performance in Motegi. Unfortunately, the Rio race was a frustrating outcome for McCoy, with a holed radiator making him an early retirement.

"Motegi has never been kind to me in the past, but I'm hoping for a trouble-free run through practice and qualifying to try and get a lot of laps on the bike and do more tyre testing," the Australian said, "At the last couple of races, little problems have cost us track time and, because we don't get to test at Motegi, it's difficult to predict how the ZX-RR will perform there.

"In Rio last week, the bumpy track seemed to even things out and worked in our favour, especially in qualifying. Motegi is smoother with some stop-go sections which could help the ZX-RR - it's the fast changes of direction where we have a problem turning. The boost in engine performance is good timing, as Kawasaki are making an effort and putting all their technical resources into the ZX-RR."

Pitt faces the familiar challenge of learning another new track at Motegi, as he builds a personal data bank of circuit information during his debut MotoGP season. He battled the bumpy and slippery Rio circuit for 18th on his first Brazilian outing.

"All I know about Motegi is from watching the race on TV last year when Alex Barros won," he admitted, "I might watch the tape of last year's race again just to try and get a feel for the track but, otherwise, I'm back in school during Friday free practice, learning my way around.

"As long as the weather is kind and I can get in plenty of dry laps, I'm confident of coming to grips with the layout and finding a comfortable race set-up on the ZX-RR before Sunday's race. The power-up engine parts will be nice birthday present, and will hopefully help us make a step forward on home ground for Kawasaki."

 

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