Randy de Puniet rode what he referred to as the hardest race of his life to take 12th place in today's US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, after being left to fly the flag for Kawasaki alone when his teammate, Shinya Nakano, retired with a mechanical problem shortly before the halfway stage of the race.

A poor start from the fifth row of the grid saw de Puniet chasing the whole field into the first turn, but the 25-year-old Frenchman quickly got his head down to reclaim two positions, to move up to 17th place, by the end of the second lap.

With the rear of his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-RR moving around on the entry to every corner, and the handling completely different to that experienced during this morning's 20-minute warm-up session, de Puniet was left with little option but to aim for a race finish today.

The Frenchman's determination was rewarded on lap 15, when Casey Stoner's crash and Nakano's retirement elevated him to fifteenth position, and a potential points scoring finish.

De Puniet moved up again as a result of Toni Elias crashing just one lap later, this time into fourteenth position. The Kawasaki pilot was able to close on Makoto Tamada in thirteenth position, but felt that with his Ninja ZX-RR so unpredictable on corner entry, putting in a pass wasn't a safe option.

As the race drew to a close, de Puniet looked set to collect two championship points for 14th position, but the MotoGP rookie found himself elevated to 12th place at the chequered flag when, on the final lap, Valentino Rossi was forced to retire with a mechanical problem and a mistake by Alex Hofmann dropped him back down the field.

Shinya Nakano got away from the line in ninth place from the third row of the grid, but quickly lost contact with the leading group after Valentino Rossi came past him on lap four.

While he was unable to match the pace of the frontrunners, Nakano was comfortably lapping in the low 1'25s bracket and looked set for a top ten finish until a mechanical failure forced him to retire his Ninja ZX-RR from the race shortly before the halfway stage.

Nakano's retirement drops the Japanese rider from eight to tenth position in the World Championship standings.

Shinya Nakano: DNF

"It is so frustrating to be sidelined by a mechanical problem, especially because it has dropped me down the championship standings. I got a reasonable start but it was obvious straightaway that we didn't have the set-up needed for this track. I couldn't match the pace of the guys at the front of the race, but I had settled into a good rhythm and I think a top ten finish was a possibility. Unfortunately, at around the halfway point the engine started making some strange noises, and then it stopped and I was forced to retire. We don't know what the problem was, but now we must use the summer break to relax, so that we can come back at Brno even stronger."
Harald Eckl: Team Principal

"I think the first thing we need to take a close look at is our starts, because there is definitely room for improvement there. The start aside, both riders pushed as hard as they could in these difficult conditions, and I'm disappointed for Shinya that his race ended as it did. Randy also had some major handling problems during the race, but he showed his determination by battling on to the end, and he was rewarded with at least some championship points as a result of the retirements at the front of the race. The problems we've experienced this weekend just show how much work we have to do over the next few months, if we are to give Shinya and Randy the chance to improve their positions in the championship standings."