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A look at the life of Takaaki Nakagami

A look at the life of Takaaki Nakagami

After Sunday night’s Moto2™ action at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar, a perhaps relatively unknown Japanese face could be seen on the podium. It was that of Takaaki Nakagami, who very much made his mark by leading the race.

Last year Nakagami returned to the World Championship in Moto2 and showed flashes of brilliance - following a two-year break since his previous appearance in 125s - but it looks as though 2013 could be the start of a new beginning.

His riding experience dates back to the age of four and Nakagami has been racing in one form or other since 1997. After winning three national Japanese titles in a row, in 2004 came his 125 debut. In 2006, six race wins helped him to become the youngest ever Japanese rider to clinch a national title in his home country.

The move to Europe came in 2007, thanks to the Red Bull MotoGP Academy. It was then that Nakagami contested Spain’s CEV championship alongside Jonas Folger and Marcel Schrotter. The final result was sixth place and a rostrum finish in Valencia, as Stefan Bradl won the title. 2007 proved to be critical, as it brought Nakagami’s debut on the World Championship scene, as a wildcard. He may have failed to finish the race, but he did qualify a highly respectable 20th in a 37-bike field.

For 2008 came a switch to IC Aprilia, with a best finish of eighth place in the British round of the championship at Donington Park. A year later brought a second full campaign in 125s, scoring in six Grands Prix and improving that all-important personal best result to a top five – this time, at historic Le Mans.

It was all change for 2010. ‘Taka’ returned to homeland Japan and looked to make an impression in ST600, a category known for its level playing field courtesy of a particularly script set of technical regulations. He went on to the GP2 category for 2011, swiftly becoming champion. That result sparked the interest of Italtrans and its Moto2 operation, who invited Nakagami for a one-off guest ride at Motegi; 18th in qualifying looked promising, but he failed to complete the race distance.

Despite the result at Motegi, the qualifying performance had been enough to impress those at the helm and a full-time ride was offered for 2012. At only the second race of the season in Jerez, he qualified second on the grid to Marc Márquez and finished fifth in the race, as Pol Espargaró took victory. Mugello was another highlight, as Takaaki enjoyed a time at the front of the pack.

Then came Losail 2013 and that maiden podium finish, having been passed by Pol Espargaró and Scott Redding after shooting into the lead at the start.

"I’m really happy with my first podium, but I’m a little bit disappointed about the race," he admitted. "In the opening staged I tried to go away, but after ten laps I felt a lot of chatter at the front and it was difficult to keep my lap times up. I tried to stay with the chase, but it was impossible to do so - so I held on to third place. A big thank you to my team, mechanics and my family."

Was Qatar the start of a special year? The next answers will come as the championship heads to Austin, Texas for the first time next weekend.

Moto2, 2013, Takaaki Nakagami, Italtrans Racing Team

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