With the first six races of the season won by either Valentino Rossi or Sete Gibernau, Rio finally bucked the trend as Camel Honda's Makoto Tamada charged to his and Bridgestone's first ever MotoGP victory.

Like a gathering storm, Tamada slowly built momentum from seventh on the grid; the former WSBK race winner only emerging as a serious contender for victory when he took third from Valentino Rossi with half the race gone.

That left only the fellow Hondas of Nicky Hayden (second) and Tamada's Michelin backed team-mate Max Biaggi ahead: Hayden was despatched within a lap, but Tamada would menace Max for eight further circulations before attacking the championship contender.

"I had good and consistent grip on the rear, and I also had an advantage on the front: Whereas Biaggi was pushing the front in the long corners, I was able to keep my own tight line without a problem," said Tamada afterwards.

"Catching up to Max was a tough, but once I got close to him, he was easy prey - I planned my move for the last right-hand corner on the track, and overtook easily."

That move came with four laps to go and, once ahead, Tamada delivered a knock-out blow to Biaggi - breaking the tow between himself and the Roman, then extending his lead to 2secs by the chequered flag.

"I decided to keep on pushing after (passing Biaggi) in order to make sure he couldn't get back by me, but at the same time, I got very nervous," admitted Makoto. "I've never got nervous in my life before, but winning my first Moto Grand Prix is something very special!"

It was indeed special: On paper Tamada came into the event with eighth at Welkom as his best 2004 result, while three DNFs from the previous six races had left him just fourteenth in the championship standings.

It was also only the second time that Tamada and Bridgestone had 'officially' taken a podium finish - their first having also been at Rio last season (Tamada was disqualified from third at Motegi 2003).

But importantly for Tamada, July 4th was also the birthday of his great friend - and fellow Honda rider - Daijiro Kato, who was killed in Tamada's very first MotoGP race, at Suzuka in 2003.

"I want to dedicate this victory to my great friend Daijiro Kato. July 4th is his birthday, and since I saw this year's grand prix calendar for the very first time, I really wanted to win this race for him," Tamada explained. "I am glad and relieved that it happened this way. I think that's the greatest homage I could pay to him. I miss him."

Kato, a 250cc world champion, was entering his second season in the premier-class and tipped to become the latest name on a limited list of Japanese 500cc/MotoGP race winners.

That honour has now gone to Tamada, who ends a two-year win drought for Japan that stretched back to Tohru Ukawa and Welkom 2002.

"At Rio last year Makoto showed what he's capable of with his first podium, and now just short of a year later, he's given us his first MotoGP victory," smiled Gianluca Montiron, Tamada's team manager.

"We had a long talk yesterday and knew what we were capable of. When I saw him lying in wait behind Max, preparing to pounce, I knew he'd be first over the line. He did it his way, with style and talent," added a proud Montiron.