When Makoto Tamada won two races during the 2004 MotoGP season, it seemed Japan had found itself a new motorcycling star, one that was unwilling to give an inch to the likes of Valentino Rossi and who didn’t take any prisoners.
Fast forward to 2010, however, and Tamada’s career stands on the precipice of obscurity having been forced to leave MotoGP in favour of World Superbikes, a two-year tenure that has brought him little success.
Indeed, Tamada’s current reputation is a far cry from his status at the turn of the century when he was being touted as the next big thing in motorcycle racing.
Beginning his racing career on 250cc machinery in the All-Japan Championship, Tamada finished fourth overall in 1998, but the thickset charger soon moved up to the Superbike class and in 1999 was fifth overall in his first year on the bigger bikes.
In 2000 he was third in the standings, then runner-up in 2001 and fourth in 2002. However, while Tamada hadn’t come away with the title he duly wanted (he lost out to Hitoyasu Izutsu, Akira Ryo and Atsushi Watanabe respectively), his future had already been assured in three short races.
As was customary amongst his JSBK counterparts at that time, Tamada entered the World Superbike Championship as a wild-card at his home event at Sugo in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Achieving moderate success in the first two years, Tamada would go on to snatch the headlines in 2001 and 2002 by winning three of the four races around the Miyagi circuit.
With Tamada’s hopes of a full season in World Superbike scuppered by Honda’s decision to withdraw from the series, the manufacturer would instead reward its rider with a fast-track to MotoGP with its satellite Pramac team.
Tamada didn’t take long to get acclimatised, qualifying fifth on his home turf debut at Suzuka, before following it up with a sixth at Jerez and a fourth at Mugello. The high and low points of his season came in quick succession when a maiden podium finish at Rio de Janeiro was followed by a disqualification from his home Pacific Grand Prix whilst battling for another rostrum.
Deemed to have made an over-forceful pass on Sete Gibernau, Tamada incurred the wrath of race officials and in turn assured a reputation in which he gave little ground to respected rivals on the circuit, including Rossi – this approach endeared him to race fans over the world.
Tamada's win in Brazil in 2004 was thus universally popular and when he followed it up with a second place in Portugal and then a resounding home victory at Motegi in Japan, he had fully justified Honda's faith in him. Tamada's reward was his own one-rider Honda team for 2005 and 2006, backed by Konica Minolta and managed by his mentor Gianluca Montiron.
But Tamada had also switched to Michelin tyres in 2005 - a disastrous decision in hindsight. At the time Tamada was happy to be on an equal footing with the leading championship contenders, but Bridgestone was very much on the up - many top teams would soon move in the other direction - while the 'feel' from the Michelin tyres was completely different to what Tamada was used to.
One rostrum place at his home race at Motegi 2005 hinted that there might be life in the new liaison, but it was to prove a false dawn and Tamada didn't finish on the podium again in either 2005 or 2006. In fact, Tamada was just 11th and 12th in the championship standings during those seasons, costing him his Honda ride for 2007.
Tamada attempted to make a new start at the Dunlop backed Tech 3 Yamaha team in 2007, but he failed to outgun rookie team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, took a best finish of eighth and was left without a ride for 2008.
With no opportunities available in MotoGP, Tamada sought a belated full-time berth in the World Superbike Championship with Kawasaki winning the race to secure his signature.
Signed to the manufacturer for two years, Tamada was placed in Kawasaki’s factory supported PSG-1 Corse team alongside Regis Laconi, but it would prove to be a year to forget for the Japanese rider.
Although results were respectable at the beginning of the year as Tamada often brought the bike home in the lower reaches of the points, he would ultimately never get to grips with the ZX-10RR and his results would dwindle as the season wore on. With qualifying posing a particular problem, Tamada failed to score once in the entire second-half of the season, plummeting him to an eventual 20th in the standings.
With Kawasaki switching its support from PSG-1 to Paul Bird Motorsport, Tamada stayed to honour the second year of his contract, but improvements weren’t forthcoming. Again, Tamada was the least competitive factory rider and was often out paced by the satellite Pedercini and PSG teams.
Tamada was also hampered by a series of injuries sustained over the year, the most serious of which occurring at Monza when a start line crash left him with a broken wrist and a recovery period of ten weeks. In fact, two more mammoth accidents at Qatar and Imola meant Tamada enjoyed just five uninterrupted events in 2009.
Unsurprisingly, Kawasaki didn’t seek to renew Tamada’s contract by the end of the season and he was expected to bow out of the championship for good before landing with the newly formed Pro Ride SBK team.
However, just as had been the case a year earlier, Pro Ride's plans faltered ahead of the new year and despite repeated claims it would be on the grid in 2010, it never materialised.
Tamada did get one WSBK outing in 2010 with Reitwagen BMW as a substitute for the injured Roland Resch, though that didn't deliver anything in the way of points. Instead a return to racing in his native Japan would follow.Career highlights: 2010:
World Superbike Championship (1 race), Reitwagen BMW, N/A2009:
World Superbike Championship, Kawasaki SRT, 27th2008:
World Superbike Championship, PSG-1 Kawasaki, 20th2007:
MotoGP World Championship, Tech 3 Yamaha, 18th2006:
MotoGP World Championship, Konica Minolta Honda, 12th2005:
MotoGP World Championship, JiR Konica Minolta Honda, 11th2004:
MotoGP World Championship, Camel Honda, 6th (2 wins) 2003:
MotoGP World Championship, Pramac Honda, 11th2002:
All-Japan Superbike Championship, 4th
World Superbike Championship (2 races), Cabin Honda, 18th (1 win) 2001:
All-Japan Superbike Championship, 2nd
World Superbike Championship (2 races), Cabin Honda, 15th (2 wins) 2000:
All- Japan Superbike Championship, 3rd
World Superbike Championship (2 races), Kotake Honda, 38th1999:
All-Japan Superbike Championship, 5th
World Superbike Championship (2 races), Kotake Honda, 38th1998:
250cc All-Japan Championship, 4th 1997:
250cc All-Japan Championship, 16th1996:
250cc All-Japan Championship, 14th1995:
250cc All-Japan Championship, 11th1994:
250cc Production Regional Championship