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Daijiro Katoh gets back on track with HRC in Malaysia

Daijiro Katoh gets back on track with HRC in Malaysia

Daijiro Katoh gets back on track with HRC in Malaysia

Honda Racing Corporation brought their riders and bikes out to Sepang for a second bout of tests at the challenging Malaysian circuit. While Valentino Rossi rode for the first time this year on the four-stroke, after signing his contract last week, Tohru Ukawa also tried to better the record-beating lap time he set at the track over two weeks back. Nevertheless, while their 990cc machines boomed around the track, there was one man with a big reputation behind him, who was out to prove that the 500cc two-stroke machine will be competitive in MotoGP.

Daijiro Katoh's Grand Prix record speaks for itself; 36 races, 35 point scoring finishes, including 17 wins. The only black mark against his name came when the young Japanese rider was unable to avoid a prone Marco Melandri in Motegi last year, and crashed as he rode over the Italian's helmet. The 250cc World Champion proved recently at Sepang that he aims to transfer this consistency and speed up to the elite class of MotoGP, by setting a lap time just one-tenth of a second outside of Ukawa's record beater.

'Last time I came here, I did get a very good result. I'm satisfied with that, but now I have more hard work to do in order to get more good results like that one,' said Katoh after the first of two days in Sepang. 'This time there are so many more parts to test, but everything is going very well.'

The man in charge of Honda's 2002 NSR500 project is Toshi Yamamoto, and he gives backing to Katoh's challenge for the MotoGP title, 'The four-stroke is very quick, yes, but in Daijiro we have one very quick rider! You can just imagine how it is going to be this year.'

As Yamamoto says, the Honda RC211V is proving to be fast around the circuit, and Katoh himself realises this, 'It's not going to be that easy fighting with the 990cc machine, but I know there will be some places where it will have an advantage, and some places that my bike will have it. Whatever the situation is, I intend to do my level best.'

This year two reigning World Champions will almost certainly be amongst those battling to win the MotoGP competition, and Katoh summed up what it has been like to hold the honour since the end of last year, 'I really enjoy being a World Champion. Of course, it is my first time, and that makes it very special. I'm happy not only for me, but also for all the people involved in winning the title. I have to say too, that it's a very nice feeling for lots of people to be coming up and congratulating you all the time.'

Honda's principal candidates for that title joined Katoh on the Sepang track today. Rossi proudly bore the synonymous number 46 on the front of his RC211V four-stroke bike for the first time, although the rest of the bike remained livery-free, with sponsors for the official Honda set-up still remaining unconfirmed. He was joined by team-mate Tohru Ukawa, and Honda Pramac rider Tetsuya Harada, who will be riding a two-stroke 500cc this season.

Sultry weather conditions were dominant once again, with overnight rain failing to clear the thick and clammy air in the Malaysian countryside location. All riders had a solid day's testing, with the only problem coming when the red flag was put out, and the riders had to return to the pits because of a stray dog escaping onto the track.

500cc, 2001

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