That smile perhaps even cheeky grin was all I could think about as the chequered flag dropped at the end of the Moto2™ race on Sunday.
It was very much a case of mixed emotions as Moto2™ celebrated its tenth birthday under the Qatar floodlights. I wanted to celebrate the ten years that has produced some amazing racing and a World Champion that has gone on to become one of the greatest premier class World Champions in the 70-year history of the sport. I wanted to celebrate the maiden Grand Prix victory for Japanese rider Tetsuta Nagashima on his 70th Grand Prix appearance after another typical fiery Moto2™ encounter.
My mind went back ten long years and that very first Moto2™ race won by another Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa. We honestly did not know what to expect and it really was a shot in the dark, if you will excuse the pun. Could these Honda powered 600 cc four-strokes really replace the two-stroke 250’s that had reigned supreme for 50 years. We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Tomizawa eventually got away at the front on the Suter from a frantic battle between Alex Debon, Jules Cluzel and World Champion elect Tony Elias. The smile and celebrations on the podium by the young Japanese rider made me realise that he was something so special both on and off the track.
The second round in Jerez confirmed his ability on the bike as he fought a titanic battle round the legendary venue to finish second behind Elias by one tenth of a second. Just half a second separated the first four – Moto2™ had arrived. Off the track Tomizawa was a delight. Somehow, he managed to combine that natural Japanese trait of courtesy and good manners with a friendly cheeky smile and always a word with everybody. How many riders would stop in the middle of a busy paddock to joke with a 60-year-old television commentator, everybody was treated with the same respect but with such a sense of good fun.
I have rarely witnessed such raw distress in a Grand Prix paddock when Shoya lost his life in that tragic accident at Misano in September of that first year. Not only had the sport lost a great rider but a true person who embodied what the sport was all about. He just loved racing motorcycles and enjoying life with everybody. I’m sure he would have gone on to win a Moto2™ title and move on to MotoGP™, but it was not to be.
Tetsuta Nagashima celebrated that tenth Moto2™ birthday in true style but even more important he dedicated his first Grand Prix win to his old friend. He is the first Japanese rider to lead the Moto2™ World Championship since Shoya. I know he would have approved with that smile.