Makoto Tamada finally proved that he can run at the front of a MotoGP race without Bridgestone tyres, by taking his first top three finish with Michelin in his home Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.

Tamada had won last year's event on a Bridgestone shod Honda, one of two victories that season, but swapped to the class leading Michelins for 2005 in an attempt to mount a title challenge.

But this year had been a huge disappointment prior to Japan, with Tamada unable to show front running form - and battling with a wrist injury - but Sunday at Motegi provided the breakthrough.

Starting from a season's best of fourth on the grid, the Konica Minolta Honda rider briefly held that position in the opening laps before being passed by world champion Valentino Rossi.

The Japanese nevertheless clung to the Yamaha's rear wheel and remained in touch with Rossi right until the Italian collided with third placed countryman Marco Melandri on lap 13 of 24.

The incident eliminated them both and promoted Tamada to third place behind Loris Capirossi and Max Biaggi. Tamada then rode for a safe podium, 15secs behind Biaggi and 6secs clear of fourth placed Carlos Checa - but believes he's capable of much more.

"The best result of the season but I feel I can do even more," he said. "I am only at 70 per cent of my condition and I hope that soon we'll make it improve. Finally I had the opportunity to show my new Michelin cap, seeing this is my first podium with the French tyres.

"During the race I had some chatter problems, which didn't allow me to remain with the fastest riders. I tried, but when I saw Rossi and Melandri fall, I preferred not to risk anything and maintain the third position. When he was in front of me, Rossi was going really fast, but I noticed that he wasn't secure as usual.

"I am happy for this result, most of all because obtained in front of our title sponsor, Konica Minolta, who this year never stopped believing in it. I hope to be able repeat this performance in seven days, because we are on the right way," he added.

Team director Luca Montiron also admitted that he'd held out hopes of a repeat victory, but was relived to finally enjoy a string result.

"We are happy, but we can't feel completely satisfied with third because last year we ended as winners. To be honest, all of us hoped to repeat the same performance this year," he said. "I hope that this will be the turning point for our season, since the tracks from here on should have favourable characteristics for us."

 

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