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GP Week : Issue 168
France’s only premier-class grand prix racer Randy de Puniet is a leading pioneer in the new-this-year CRT category, racing a production- based Aprilia ART for the top Aspar Power Electronics team, and vying for top CRT slot with team-mate Aleix Espargaro. But it’s a frustrating business, for the former Honda, Ducati and factory Kawasaki rider. GPWEEK: How is life as a CRT pioneer? RANDY DE PUNIET: It’s not so easy. We give the maximum, with the team, to try to improve and reduce the gap to the factory riders. But even if we do a good qualifying – sometimes 1.5 or 1.7 seconds from pole position, it’s not bad ... but is difficult to be closer. Anyway the first target of the team is to be the first CRT. For this moment Aleix is in front of me. I am second. So we did a great job with the bike and the team. But I think for the future they need to take a real decision to reduce the gap between both categories. I compared the lap times from last year, and in Indianapolis and Brno, with the CRT I was faster than on the Ducati last year. This is good ... but the 1000 bikes improved a lot the lap time. So if the prototype was still 800cc and the CRT 1000, maybe it would be better fun. Now it’s too late. What is the ART like, compared with your previous experience? Would you call it a proper racing bike? Yeah. Even if the engine for me is different from what I know in the past, like Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki. They were stronger and more aggressive; the ART engine is very easy to ride. Quite soft, and no strange feelings. The bike is stable ... electronics, engine braking. It’s like a normal race bike. Even if we want more power ... that is the only problem for this bike. I’m curious to see this bike with 30 horsepower more. You tested pre-season with the Aprilia Superbike motor, which is more powerful. Was that a lot better? The factory Superbike team uses a faster engine with more power, because they can change the engine when they want. We need three times more engine life, to that is why we have to use less rpm and power. But even with a little bit more power, we couldn’t fight. We would be in the middle between CRT and prototype. Do you think it is dangerous, with the big speed difference between CRT and prototype? No. I don’t think it is dangerous. What is dangerous is when some rider – CRT or prototype – waits on track to try to follow somebody. Whatever bike, prototype or CRT, if you are on the straight at 100 km/h slower than the guy going for pole position ... this is dangerous. It seems the CRT bikes have more corner speed than the prototypes. Is that a problem? The riding style is more like 250 than real MotoGP. When I follow some guys, I can enter faster into the corner, and the corner speed is better. That’s why some tracks, where it is more flowing, are better for us. At a track where you have to stop the bike, then pick it up and accelerate ... not good. Have you found yourself held up in the corners at all? Sometimes yes ... with some guys on the slower prototypes, I am faster in the corner. But as soon as they open the gas – pfffff, they are gone. That is the big difference. How did you end up in this new category? I didn’t want to ride CRT when I heard about it, but at the end of the year I had nothing. I spoke with my manager and said okay, we stop and wait and see if something happens in the season – Superbike or MotoGP, I don’t know. Then I had a proposal from Aspar. It sounded interesting, and I said: Why not, but I want to try the bike before. I knew it was a difficult challenge. The first impression was disaster, but the second was not bad ... the lap time was interesting. So I said: okay, I go. People were saying this category may be the future, so I thought ... one year may be difficult; maybe two, but after that maybe I can come back to the top. We wait for the rules of 2014. And you have a chance of winning the CRT battle. I have had a couple of technical problems – fuel on the last lap at Jerez, and the clutch at Indy, and Pirro hit me at Laguna Seca. So I lose a lot of points for that. But it is a little bit frustrating, because you are always 12th or 13th in normal condition. You can beat some slow prototype like I did in Brno, or in some races ... but, that’s it. How much longer do you expect to be in racing? A few more years, I think. I am 31 years now, and I’m not ready to retire. Are you tempted to move to another category, where you have the chance of winning again – Superbike, perhaps, or Moto2? Moto2 definitely no. Not with such standard bikes. In 250 with the two-strokes, a good rider could make a difference of a few tenths of a second. In Moto2 everybody is so close. I preferred the two-stroke. I would like to have raced 500cc two-stroke, but I was too young, by a couple of years. Have you ever ridden a 500? Never. I would really like to. I had one chance to test a Yamaha when I was racing in 250, but my team said no. I would still like to do it. If you weren’t a racer, what would you be doing? Good question. I have no idea. I started with motocross when I was young, but then I told my father I wanted to stop for a year or two, because I wanted to wait until I was 14 and I could go road-racing. When I got to GP racing I was 17, and from there I continued until now. I never had any other job. As the only French rider, have you had much help from the French Federation, or anything like that? No. Nothing at all. My father had to pay for everything. It is very difficult for a French guy to come into racing, not like the Spanish. You have a high-profile girlfriend (Playboy model Lauren Vickers). Is it true you will be married soon? At the end of the year. The wedding will be in Sydney ... that is where she comes from. We go back to Sydney every year in the winter break for three months. It is a good way to live ... it is always summer. 5 MINUTES WITH RANDY DE PUNIET MotoGP's CRT title contender talks with MICHAEL SCOTT 5 MINUTES 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: