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Ryder Notes: Remembering Tomizawa
by julian ryder
Monday, September 06, 2010

I wrote this about "Tomi" earlier in the year. —JR

European fans have a new favorite: the rising star of MotoGP is a teenage kid from the seaside town of Asahi-shi. Shoya Tomizawa won the first ever Moto2 GP and set pole position for the second, finishing on the rostrum. For a rider who had only finished tenth in a GP before on a very private 250 Honda, those results would have been enough to guarantee him some new fans. But it wasn't just the committed and spectacular riding style that endeared him to the Jerez crowd and TV audiences but the way he has conducted himself.

Us Euros have certain expectations of Japanese riders, a lot of them conditioned by the crash-happy factory test riders who used to turn up for a couple of races, bend a lot of motorcycles and go back to the day job. The man who broke that stereotype forever was Nobby Ueda. Ok, he did a bit of crashing but here was a man with a great sense of humour and he was fast, very fast. The fact he spoke good English also helped. He was very different from, for instance, Tadahiko Taira, who we perceived as a rather aloof Samurai. We admired him but didn't really understand him.

In Shoya, we see an interesting mixture of what we think of as the admirable things about Japan. And we see a kid who left Japan for the first time to join his new team in the south of France at the start of last season. We know enough about the differences between Japanese society and ours to understand what a brave leap that must have been. He is lucky to have Giles Bigot as his race engineer, the man who took Alex Criville to the 1999 500cc world title. Bigot is a massively experienced operator who never seems to be anywhere near a state of panic. Just what a fast young racer needs. Last year Shoya campaigned a 250 Honda in a BBR chassis, a bike that cost around 30,000 Euros and was on average about 0.3sec slower than the million-Euro Aprilias. I asked him how come Tomizawa won Qatar with the biggest winning margin of the weekend? The answer was because he is good on worn tyres, and that's because the team has no money and put Shoya out on 40-lap old tyres at tests. In fact, Shoya had one day on a stock CBR600 and one day with the Suter chassis before going to the Barcelona test where he was joint fastest with an engine making just 122hp. His first comment after riding a four-stroke for the very first time was "That is very interesting."

Bigot picked Shoya up from Marseille airport in January '09 and drove him through the ancient seaside area of La Ciotat. Much to Giles's amusement, Shoya's cameraphone never stopped clicking; "Just like us in Japan." Bigot is not given to long speeches, but ask him about Shoya and he is hard to shut up. If he asks if the bike is chattering, the usual complaint in Moto2, Shoya will say "Yes, two corners, but no crisis." Most teenage riders would be moaning the second they got off the bike.

It is this attitude that comes through loud and clear.

After every GP the top three do TV interviews. This was another new experience for Shoya but he is a natural. At Jerez Shoya used his TV time to apologise for causing the mass crash that caused the race to be restarted and then apologised for causing his mechanics so much work.

Apparently, he also apologised to the team for only finishing second. Like most Europeans I expect Japanese to be polite, even if my Japanese friends think I am living in the past, but his calm attitude was striking in its maturity and authority. It is impossible to define star quality, but when you see it, you know it.

So far Shoya has coped with his new stardom without any problems. However, he may have a new challenge ahead. He has attracted the attention of a lot of young female fans. Shoya may need a few bodyguards at Day of Champions at Silverstone.

ENDS

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