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Yanagawa hoping to step into the limelight in 2003

Yanagawa hoping to step into the limelight in 2003

Yanagawa hoping to step into the limelight in 2003

Akira Yanagawa has taken on the role of development rider for the Ninja ZX-RR ever since Kawasaki declared their intention to return to World Championship competition back in January 2002. The Gauloises Pacific Grand Prix at Motegi at the end of the 2002 season saw Yanagawa and the green machine take part in a MotoGP event for the first time, although the adventure ended on a hospital bed after the Japanese rider was spat off on the seventh lap of the race, breaking his hip.

Kawasaki continued full steam ahead with their intensive prgramme, however, and in the final race of the year at Valencia, Andrew Pitt scored their first points. Yanagawa remembers the occasion with a smile: `I watched the race from hospital – in fact I am still suffering from that crash at Motegi. I need more time before I am completely recovered, and the doctors have told me to make sure I don't fall off again!

Now back in Japan after the MotoGP Test at Catalunya last weekend, Yanagawa has been able to reflect on the team's first major encounter with their rivals for 2003. `So far we haven't been up to the lap times we had hoped for, but we are still very much in the testing phase and we need more time. We have another two-day test coming up in Malaysia. We can't use the Sepang Circuit because of the Formula 1 but we will go to Johor to concentrate on some Dunlop tyre tests. Then we have the test at Suzuka a week before the first race.

The 31 year old explained the objectives of the team for this season and his role within them: `The challenge for our team is to get both riders into the top ten positions. In my case, and in my capacity as a test rider, I will be trying to perfect the bike in the tests so that Garry and Andrew can achieve good results in the race. My efforts will be away from the spotlight´.

However, Yanagawa is lined up to take centre stage on several occasions this year, with a series of wildcard rides starting at Suzuka. `Last year I was really disappointed that my World Championship debut in Motegi had to end as it did. Hopefully in Suzuka there won't be any problems. I will be riding to my maximum and trying to secure my place in a few more races, although I am not sure how many just yet.´

MotoGP, 2003

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