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Tohru Ukawa :`This is the first genuine year of four-strokes´

Tohru Ukawa :`This is the first genuine year of four-strokes´

Tohru Ukawa :`This is the first genuine year of four-strokes´

Tohru Ukawa will fondly remember the second race of the first ever MotoGP World Championship last year, for it was then when he took his first ever victory in motorcycling´s premier class and in doing so, broke the run of his new teammate Rossi who had won the previous race and the last four of the previous season. It was in Welkom that the Japanese rider took his first ever 25 point haul in MotoGP, and with the RC211V purring underneath him it looked as if he would be there or thereabouts for the duration. However along came the Donington Park race, and with it undoubtedly the most spectacular and dramatic crash of the whole 2002 season. A defining moment for the affable 29 year-old, who admits he was never quite the same afterwards. Nevertheless, he kept plugging away with niggling injuries and battled for the runners-up slot until the last race in Valencia, missing out by just six points at the end of it all.

`Last year there was a mix of two- and four-stroke bikes,´ remarked Ukawa. `So because of this I think that 2003 will be the first true year of the four-strokes. Now all the riders will be on the more powerful machines, and many different constructors are aiming to be the best. Repeating a victory like the one I had at Welkom last year will not be easy, but I will of course be giving everything to make it possible´.

This season the Japanese rider finds himself in a team alongside his rival for second spot last year, Max Biaggi. Camel Pramac Pons has undoubtedly two very talented and capable riders, both of whom have now shown their pedigree at the top level. Ukawa reveals, `The team is really great, there is no problem with communication, I feel comfortable with them, and we are working well. The balance in the team is very positive and I am looking forward to the year ahead´.

One thing which has remained constant for Ukawa going into 2003, is his role as HRC's main development rider, working on making the RC211V even more powerful than it already is, something which continued at the Sepang circuit two weeks ago. $$$

`It really was hot weather out there,´ he explained. `But I am a very physically fit rider and it wasn't too much of a problem for me. I fulfilled all the goals I was set - of course I wanted to lap in good times - but I also had to test different settings for the bike, especially on the suspension. At the end my times were good and we got all the set-up work we needed to do. The good work we have done here will become apparent when we return here in February´.

Not only did Ukawa get to work with his new teammate for the first time in Sepang, but also he shared the track with some of his principle rivals, including Valentino Rossi and Daijiro Kato, as well as the rookies Makoto Tamada and Nicky Hayden. After this first hand knowledge of the new guys, the Chiba-born rider gave his first impressions, `Besides Valentino, who is certainly number one, there are clearly many other riders to take into account this year, it will be a tough challenge. As for my compatriots, Tamada will probably find it tough work as he adapts to the competition, machine and tyres in his first year, but Kato was already going quickly last year, and now we will have the very same bike, so is my most obvious rival,´ stated Ukawa, who this year once again aims to become the first Japanese rider to win the MotoGP World Championship.

MotoGP, 2003

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