Makoto Tamada may carry the hopes of the Honda and the Japanese sporting nation on his shoulders, but it seems such pressure does little to change his positive attitude to grand prix racing and life in general.

On March 20 1954 Soichiro Honda made the following declaration: "My childhood dream was to be a motor sport World Champion with a machine built by myself. I here avow my definite intention that I will participate in the TT races and I proclaim with my fellow employees that I will pour in all my energy and creative powers to win."

Five hundred and sixty eight grands prix victories and fifty years later, Soichiro Honda?s legacy continues, but one part of his dream remains unfulfilled; No Japanese rider has won the premier-class in the 55-year history of grand prix racing and both Honda and Japan hope that Makoto Tamada will one day complete the dream.

Japanese riders have won 125cc, 250cc and 350cc World titles but they have never captured the ultimate prize which has been dominated by their manufacturers for so long.

In fact, only five Japanese riders have won premier-class races. Tadayuki Okada won four, Norick Abe has won three, while Tohru Ukawa, Hideo Kanaya and Takazumi Katayama were successful on just one occasion each. It's Okada who's come closest to the title, finishing second in 1997 behind Mick Doohan and third two years later behind Alex Criville and Kenny Roberts.

Tamada made a most impressive MotoGP debut last year eventually finishing 11th in the championship riding the Bridgestone-shod Pramac RC211V Honda. He impressed many with his aggressive style on the track... although not Sete Gibernau or race direction - who excluded him from Motegi for what they thought was dangerous riding as he passed the Spaniard to grab third place.

This year 27-year old Tamada rides in the Camel Honda team with four-times 250cc world champion Max Biaggi as his team-mate. Last year Tamada stood on the MotoGP podium for the very first time at Rio, and his next step is to win a grand prix this year before chasing that ultimate dream.

"Before I can even start thinking about winning the championship I must win a grand prix. I want to win at Mugello and Motegi this season because I live in Italy in the season and of course I come from Japan," revealed Makoto. "That is the next step but there are a lot of important factors that must be in place for this to happen. When everything is right with the bike, the tyres, the team and the rider I'm certain I can win grands prix. After that I'll think about the next step."

Ukawa was the last Japanese rider to win a premier class race and the only Japanese rider to win a MotoGP race, the 2002 Africa's Grand Prix at Welkom. Leaving Japan and adapting to the European life style has never been easy for their riders, but Tamada feels living in Italy has helped his career and has one particular major advantage over Japan.

"The girls! I really like Italian and Spanish girls," joked Tamada, who comes from Shikoku, a small Island in the south of Japan and who started racing mini-bikes when he was just nine years old. "When I was living in Japan there were a lot of temptations with my friends wanting to take me out to drink and not to train. Living in Italy means I can concentrate solely on MotoGP and so is probably better for my career living in Italy. Also the girls are very different. I have plenty of friends but no girlfriend at the moment."

Team principle Sito Pons simply calls Tamada a 'good guy' and that's typical of how he's viewed in the MotoGP paddock: The former World Superbike race winner takes his racing very seriously, but always with a smile on his face.

"I'm really enjoying MotoGP and even when I have negative thoughts sometimes, I always try to change them to positive feelings," explained Tamada, who scored his first victory at Kyushu in Japan ten years ago riding the NSR 250 Honda. "If I show I'm not so happy it can bring down the spirits of the people around me and so I always try to be positive, whatever the circumstances.

"The atmosphere in the team is really good. Some of the older riders say I don't take racing seriously enough because I'm always laughing but it's all to do with positive thinking," he revealed.

Tamada joins an elite band of Japanese riders who so far have failed to fulfil the dream of a man whose foresight and endeavour has been the biggest influence in grand prix motorcycle racing over the last four decades. But one thing is certain, if Makoto Tamada can achieve Soichiro Honda's dream, he won't be the only person smiling.



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