The MotoGP paddock turned a shade of green in Japan today, as many riders, mechanics, teams and journalists completed the weary long haul journey east to be greeted with a reminder of the bright new future of Grand Prix racing.

Kawasaki added to the fervent local excitement ahead of the Gauloises Pacific Grand Prix of Motegi with the official unveiling of their Ninja ZX-RR four-stroke racer, whilst Alex Barros and the West Honda Pons team were able to bury their envy of factory four-stroke dominance this season as they took delivery of a Honda RC211V.

"I am happy to be back in MotoGP after a personal absence of six years, and we are all ready for a big challenge over the next few years," announced Kawasaki Racing Team Manager Harald Eckl, who attended the unveiling of the machine alongside rider Akira Yanagawa (pictured).

"The machine we have here this weekend is still a prototype, and we will use the next four races as a testing period, gathering information to create our definitive machine for 2003. We will have a two rider team but we have not decided which riders as yet," added Eckl, who did nothing to calm rumours that Aussie World Supersport ace Andrew Pitt has been offered one of the seats.

The traditional colouring of the Japanese manufacturers was reflected in the face of freshly crowned World Champion Valentino Rossi, who revealed he was "not in good shape" after being struck with a stomach bug. "I hope I am better tomorrow, because at the moment I have no power," added the Italian, who is looking forward to the final quarter of the season, and beyond, after clinching the 2002 title two weeks ago in Rio.

"I have had time to look back on Brazil and it is a good feeling to be World Champion. There are still four races left of the season and it should be very interesting with the new four strokes. In November I will be racing in the RAC rally, which I hope to test for before the final race in Valencia, and in January and February I hope to test the Honda Formula 1 car."

Yamaha make a further contribution to the four-stroke influx here in Japan, as Wataru Yoshikawa prepares to make his Grand Prix debut aboard the M1.

The factory also plan to introduce further M1 machines next week in Malaysia, with Gauloises Yamaha Tech 3 pair Shinya Nakano and Olivier Jacque set to test at Shah Alam on Tuesday ahead of the Sepang race next Sunday.

Whilst Nakano accommodated the press ahead of his home race, Jacque took the chance to escape from the circuit with local hero Daijiro Kato, experiencing some traditional culture at a nearby pottery town where they were joined by 250 riders Roby Rolfo, Sebastian Porto, Toni Elias and Casey Stoner.

The riders were introduced to the finer details of Japanese pottery production and, in some cases, demonstrated artistic expertise as they were invited to make their own plates and mugs.

Honda rider Rolfo and Yamaha man Porto will battle for Japanese factory supremacy in the half-litre class on Sunday, with Porto riding high on confidence after his maiden win in the Rio rain two weeks ago. Meanwhile Aprilia, who took the manufacturers' title with third place for Franco Battaini in Brazil, look to take a step closer to individual honours with series leader Marco Melandri and challenger Fonsi Nieto.

The pair are currently separated by 45 points and the Italian would set-up a title shot in Malaysia with victory here. Meanwhile in the 125 class Manuel Poggiali is hoping for dry conditions for the first time in three races as he looks to cut down the gap to wet specialist Arnaud Vincent, who now leads the World Champion by 27 points.

 

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