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The ex-rider factor: Masao Azuma

The ex-rider factor: Masao Azuma

Along with such illustrious names as Sakata, Aoki, Ueda and Ui, Masao Azuma can rightfully call himself one of the pioneers of Japanese riding.

Along with such illustrious names as Sakata, Aoki, Ueda and Ui, Masao Azuma can rightfully call himself one of the pioneers of Japanese riding.

After seven years at the top, Azuma earned ten chequered flags and climbed the podium steps on a further ten occasions his last podium visit coming at a wet Phillip Island in 2003.

The 32 year old rain-master was another of the vast collective of loyal 125cc racers who never lifted the title but his five consecutive top ten Championship positions from 1998 to 2002 (including four inside the top five) established the dedicated Honda rider as one of the main stars of the series.

He had his best season in 1999, taking five victories in the first half of the campaign, but then faded badly in the second half of the year after famously hitting a deer at Brno. The same year saw 15 year-old Marco Melandri announce his arrival on the world scene with a sensational string of wins. However, it was Emilio Alzamora who took the title, despite not winning a single race, with Azuma forced to settle for third behind Melandri.

One of Azumas career highlights came at Suzuka in 2002, when he won the 125cc race to set-up Daijiro Kato and Valentino Rossi for a memorable hat-trick for Honda - who could then celebrate the historic achievement of 500 Grand Prix wins. His last victory came eleven races later, when he staged a memorable charge through the field in the wet race at Rio.

Having won the All-Japan GP 125 Championship on Bridgestone tyres in 1996, Azuma came back on Bridgestone tyres in 1998, commencing a long run of successes, including winning the first three races consecutively.

Bridgestone had been very active in the 125cc class, taking their first steps toward an eventual MotoGP effort. Azuma´s performances persuaded the company´s boss that it was time to tackle the premier class challenge.

After putting down his helmet in 2003, Azuma continues to support the Japanese tyre firms Grand Prix activity - now working on the other side of the pitwall as the Bridgestone Field Engineer assigned to the Rizla Suzuki team, helping Chris Vermeulen and John Hopkins to get the most from their compounds.

Tags:
MotoGP, 2007

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