This weekend's Czech Republic Grand Prix will be a special event for Shinya Nakano and Gresini Racing, since it will mark the Japanese rider's debut on an early version of Honda's 2009 satellite-spec RC212V.
Nakano's modest season so far, a best race finish of ninth and tenth position in the world championship standings, makes his promotion to what is effectively a factory ride - the 2009 satellite bike will essentially be Dani Pedrosa's 2008 (valve spring) Repsol machine - somewhat controversial, especially since rookie Andrea Dovizioso has put his JiR machine fifth in the championship with three fourth places.
Nevertheless, team principal Fausto Gresini points to 30-year-old Nakano's wealth of experience, ease of communication with the factory and his 2008 consistency - only Nakano and Valentino Rossi have scored points in all eleven rounds so far.
Gresini also sees Shinya's selection in more general terms; as a reward from HRC for the team's performances in recent seasons. Gresini Honda finished second in the MotoGP World Championship in 2003 and 2004 with Sete Gibernau and then in 2005 with Marco Melandri. Melandri also won more races than any other Honda rider in 2006, although the team - like all the satellite Honda teams - was winless in 2007.
"HRC have entrusted our team and Shinya Nakano with development of the 2009 satellite version Honda RC212V - a decision that gives us a lot of satisfaction and consolidates our status as a leading team in the eyes of Honda, as we have been for several years," said Gresini. "We're really happy to have this opportunity and we will give our best to make the most of it.
"Riding the evolution machine is also a good chance for Shinya, who has been selected because of his good reputation as a development rider as well as for his native language," the Italian explained.
It will be interesting to see how a machine based around Michelin tyres (used by Repsol Honda) adapts to the rival Bridgestone rubber used by Gresini - and Nakano admitted to feeling both excitement and nerves at the challenge ahead.
"My crew and myself have been given a great challenge for the this weekend, taking a completely new bike to the track - an RC212V similar to the one ridden by Dani Pedrosa," began Nakano, a former Yamaha and Kawasaki MotoGP rider.
"At the start of the season you have all the time you need to set a bike up and adapt it to your riding style whereas now we'll have to do it against the clock," he explained. "From the first free practice we'll have to work flat out and hope that the weather is on our side because we will need all four sessions to fully understand the bike.