MOTOGP » Shinya Nakano
After ten full seasons in grand prix racing, Shinya Nakano switches to the World Superbike Championship for 2009, when he will ride alongside Max Biaggi at the returning factory Aprilia team.
Nakano emerged from the cauldron of Japanese pocket bike racing as Eastern Kanto Regional Champion and while that might not seem much of a title, the intense level of competition in those domestic series dictates that many rider who won those series go on to achieve world success.
Nakano has so far been denied a world title - losing out on the 2000 250cc World Championship to team-mate Olivier Jacque just metres from the finish at Philip Island – and also failed to notch up a premier class win, but his two third places and one second place indicate his potential when the bike/tyre package is working for him.
A loyal team man and an engaging personality in the paddock, Nakano is also a fierce competitor. After riding a satellite Yamaha in the MotoGP class from 2001 to 2003, Shinya was engaged by Kawasaki to give momentum to the green team’s efforts and he was unstinting in his desire to drive the team forward. Three seasons yielded just those three podiums but also built his name as a talented professional.
No one who witnessed his 200mph crash at Mugello in 2004 (when his rear tyre failed) will need reminding of his calm resolve after the incident to get on with the business of racing - and demonstrate that resolve with a seventh place in Catalunya just seven days later.
Kawasaki did all it could to convince Nakano to stay for 2007, but uncertainly over its new 800cc motorcycle - combined with the expected chance to fight for race wins on a Michelin-shod Konica Minolta Honda - tipped the balance in favour of pastures new.
If they had been in his shoes, most riders would have done exactly the same, but the decision proved to be a nightmare: The new RC212V Honda was uncompetitive (and remained that way for the non-factory riders) while Michelin lost its 'grip' in the battle for tyre supremacy with Bridgestone.
Nakano finished the year just 17th in the standings, with a best finish of tenth, but Honda believed he deserved a second chance and placed him back on Bridgestone tyres at the Gresini Honda team for 2008.
Shinya made a modest start to his Gresini career, with a best finish of eighth heading into round twelve at Brno, where he was surprisingly rewarded with a (valve-spring) factory Honda ride. HRC claimed that the move was down to his consistency (points at every round), experience and language - since he would be developing next year's satellite bike.
Few were convinced by that explanation - and Dani Pedrosa's subsequent switch to Bridgestone tyres seemed to indicate the real reason - but Nakano silenced the doubters by charging from twelfth to fourth on his factory RCV debut in the Czech Republic.
The final six races yielded a best finish of fifth, but Nakano knew that his Gresini seat was lost three rounds from the end of the season, when Toni Elias was confirmed alongside Alex de Angelis for 2009.
Nakano was tipped to become a Honda test rider, but was thrown a potential MotoGP lifeline when Kawasaki began pushing for their former rider to steer a possible third ZX-RR, to be run by 125 and 250cc team manager Jorge Martinez 'Aspar' next season.
Unfortunately for Nakano, Aspar wanted a Spanish rider to please his sponsors and the whole project eventually broke down, ending Nakano's final hope of remaining on the premier-class grid.
A place as a test rider for any of the Japanese teams would have been possible, but at the age of 32 Nakano believes he has plenty of racing potential left and has chosen to take on the new challenge of the World Superbike Championship - where he will ride Aprilia's brand new RSV4 alongside Biaggi in 2009.
- 1998 : 250cc All Japan Road Race Champion Yamaha.
- 1999 : 4th 250cc World Championship Yamaha.
250cc Rookie of the year.
- 2000 : 2nd 250cc World Championship Yamaha
- 2001 : 5th 500cc World Championship Yamaha.
500cc Rookie of the year.
- 2002 : 11th MotoGP World Championship Yamaha.
- 2003 : 10th MotoGP World Championship Yamaha.
5th – Grand Prix of Italy and Catalunya GP
- 2004 : 10th MotoGP World Championship Kawasaki.
Best position: 3rd - Grand Prix of Japan
- 2005 : 10th MotoGP World Championship Kawasaki.
Best position: 5th – Grand Prix of Spain
- 2006 : 11th MotoGP World Championship Kawasaki.
Best position: 2nd – Dutch Grand Prix.
- 2007 : 17th MotoGP World Championship Honda
- 2008 : 9th MotoGP World Championship Honda