Tetsuta Nagashima made history at the 2020 Moto2 world championship opener as he gambled “to win or crash” to pay tribute to the late ex-Moto2 race-winner and friend Shoya Tomizawa.

The Red Bull KTM Ajo rider became the first Japanese rider to win the Qatar Moto2 race since Tomizawa back in 2010 before he was tragically killed later in the year racing at Misano.

Nagashima, who grew up racing alongside Tomizawa who was two years older than him, gave an emotional tribute to his friend and was in tears during the cooldown lap and in parc ferme as his maiden world championship win began to sink in.

The 27-year-old described his maiden Moto2 win as a dream as he charged up the order from 14th on the grid before bolting with four laps to go to keep clear of chasing trio Lorenzo Baldassarri, Enea Bastianini and Joe Roberts.

“My feelings are just like a dream, I am in a dream,” Nagashima said. “Yesterday in qualifying I made a small mistake and my grid position was not perfect.

“Then from the beginning I had to push harder, harder, harder but I thought nothing like this. The team pushed me, as last year I was close to the podium but I never got there, so I forgot everything and pushed to win or crash.

“Starting from 14th position and I had to overtake a lot of riders. In the beginning it was a little bit difficult to overtake as every rider was pushing, pushing, pushing, so I had to overtake them and lost some speed, but finally at the end it was okay.

“The last three or four laps I don’t remember very well! When I went to the top I felt like I didn’t know where to brake, I forgot my braking points and everything.

“But the last two laps were amazing, my feeling was that I was pushing but I never felt like I was going to crash. I was very comfortable for the last two laps. Especially the last lap, I saw that when Shoya won the race he felt like this, so I feel the same.”

The win comes as a remarkable milestone in Nagashima’s career as it is his maiden world championship podium and win in his 70th start in Moto2.

Nagashima came a surprise pick at Red Bull KTM Ajo to replace the MotoGP-bound Brad Binder alongside Jorge Martin and the Japanese rider feels both his and team boss Aki Ajo’s commitment has already paid off.

“I’ve known Aki since 2016 when I was in CEV [Nagashima made two Moto2 wildcard appearances for Ajo Motorsport in 2016] so I know him very well and he is very specialist for the GP,” he said.

“Last year we were so close to the podium and I was quite happy with the team but finally I decided I wanted to win and do more. It was very difficult to decide but I am very happy here.”

Nagashima also emulates Tomizawa as the first non-European rider to lead the Moto2 world championship standings since the Japanese rider achieved the same feat after winning the 2010 opener in Qatar.

Nagashima must now wait until at least April to recommence his Moto2 campaign following the postponement of the Thailand round, while the next scheduled round at the United States’ Circuit of the Americas remains under threat following the ‘local state of disaster’ reported by the City of Austin authorities amid the coronavirus outbreak.