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Tenacious Ukawa finally steps out of Rossi´s shadow

Tenacious Ukawa finally steps out of Rossi´s shadow

Tenacious Ukawa finally steps out of Rossi´s shadow

If there was a happy man after the MotoGP race of Africa´s Grand Prix, that man was Tohru Ukawa. On the podium in Welkom Rossi, despite the trademark smile, was kicking himself after letting first place slip through his fingers, and Capirossi seemed satisfied enough after a third which at least showed the 2-strokes were still alive and kicking in this year´s championship. Ukawa though was jubilant. With joy unrefined he covered Trevor Morris, his Chief Mechanic as always, in champagne, and threw off his image of being one of MotoGP´s more mild-mannered characters. And why not? Ukawa had just won his first Grand Prix since moving up to the elite class in 2001, had written his name into the history books by becoming one of the first victors in the new MotoGP category, and in doing so had broken the run of five straight wins of Honda team-mate and World Champion, Valentino Rossi.

The 28 year-old from Chiba, claimed victory on Sunday by demonstrating the traits that have come to be his hallmark, consistency and tenacity. Those that know him, know that in testing he is always amongst the most diligent riders, patiently testing different tyres and always doing his best to find the right set-up. Champion of Japan in 1991, 1993 and 1994, Ukawa´s first full season on the World Championship scene came in 1996 in the quarter-litre class with Honda, of whom he is now a favourite son. His consistency, took him to top five finishes in his first two seasons, and the top four in 1998. His first race victories arrived a year later, when he finished runner-up to then champion, a certain Valentino Rossi. A record of 29 podiums in five seasons demonstrated Ukawa´s prowess.

Last year, his first season in the 500cc category, he suffered something of a dip in form. His campaign was marked by a series of falls and some erratic riding. He only made it on to the podium once, in South Africa where he came in third, behind Rossi and Capirossi, as fate would have it the same pair who accompanied him up the steps this time around. Yesterday though he stepped out of the shadows of his illustrious team-mate, and took a victory which, for a day at least, made him the star of the Honda stable.

MotoGP, 2002, Africa's Grand Prix, Valentino Rossi

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