The Camel Honda Pons team has confirmed that Max Biaggi and Makoto Tamada will take up its 2004 MotoGP title challenge, but will do so on rival brands of tyre.

Following the retirement of Tohru Ukawa, the Camel team has evolved, renewing its alliance with Sito Pons and four-times 250cc world champion Max Biaggi and signing rising Japanese star Tamada, via an agreement with common sponsor Pramac.

Tamada rode for the separate one rider Pramac Honda team last year, the outfit renting a grid slot from Luis d'Antin, who ran a solo entry for Shinya Nakano. d'Antin has since taken the grid slot back for his new two-man Ducati team, forcing Pramac Honda to join with Pons' Camel Pramac Pons team for 2004. Ukawa raced alongside Biaggi in 2003, but has retired from racing and is now a HRC test rider.

Experienced technical chief Antonio Cobas remains to support Biaggi, while Tamada brings with him a team of mechanics managed by Luca Montiron.

"Just two years since the creation of Pramac Racing, and after two extremely important seasons in the premier class of the MotoGP, the Camel Honda Team project for 2004 is the pride of our workgroup," Montiron admitted, "Thanks to the faith that two giants on the world stage - Honda and Bridgestone - have in us, we now have the additional prestige of a new partnership with an absolute top-level worldwide corporation, Japan Tobacco International."

The team has set its sights on winning both the riders' and team championships in 2004, and Biaggi, who has finished as runner-up on three occasions, will undoubtedly be listed among the main contenders for Valentino Rossi's crown, especially now that the younger Italian has left Honda for Yamaha. Biaggi won two races in 2003 - at Donington after Rossi got a post-race penalty, and Motegi.

Tamada, meanwhile, took Bridgestone's first MotoGP podium at Rio, and then finished third next time out at Motegi, although he was later disqualified for making contact with Sete Gibernau on the last lap.

"This project is now entering its second year and, with the consolidation of last season's success, everything is now in place for the team to put up a real title-winning challenge," team boss Pons insisted, "We are delighted to count on continued support from Camel to achieve this goal. Their whole-hearted commitment to MotoGP, and the passion, enthusiasm and experience they bring is a great plus not only for our team, but for the championship as a whole.

"We are also proud to continue our partnership with Max Biaggi, who will surely be a strong challenger for the world title, and we welcome the incorporation of such a promising rider as Makoto Tamada."

In a somewhat unusual move, the Japanese rider will continue to run on Bridgestones in 2004 - even though Biaggi will continue to utilise the Michelins that he ran last season. Despite the presence of what would appear to be two separate operations under the same roof, however, both riders were listed on last week's updated entry list as riding for Camel Pramac Honda Pons.

"After making his debut in the MotoGP last season, Makoto Tamada can now aspire to the highest levels, keeping our secret dream alive - that of gunning for victory with rider, motorcycle, title partner and tyres all from Japan," Montiron commented.
Building on 2003 success, JT International said that it was pleased to continue as title partner of the Camel Honda team.

"After a promising first season in 2003, Camel looks forward to solidifying its initial success for the Camel Honda team in 2004," director Giovanni Lamarca confirmed, "Our team strategy is clear - we are focused and confident with the upcoming season as we have prepared ourselves to win the world championship. JT
International is proud that its renowned Camel brand continues to be represented globally by such an experienced, powerful and professional team.

"Camel is happy to be associated with Honda, another company of great prestige and we resolutely believe that with their continuous support, our riders Max and Makoto have the leading edge that makes them strong contenders for the world championship. We wish them both every success."