I enlarged the cool part
Following recent rumours linking Shinya Nakano with a Kawasaki ride in 2004, the team have now admitted speaking to the Japanese – but insist no deal is done and that Shinya is one of a number of riders being considered.
Kawasaki fielded Garry McCoy and Andrew Pitt this year, but the ZX-RR proved troublesome in its first full MotoGP season and McCoy, who took team green's best finish of ninth at Le Mans, split from the team after the Valencia season finale.
With impressive test rider Alex Hofmann having booked a full time ride in 2004 after some head-turning rides as a wild-card, that left one seat spare for 2004 – with former World Supersport champ Pitt initially tipped to retain his ride for the purposes of continuity, and despite a mediocre season.
However, it now appears that Pitt's place could be taken by the highly rated Nakano, a Yamaha rider since his GP debut in the 250cc class in 1998. Nakano has won six 250 GPs and finished a close runner-up in the 2000 world championship to team-mate Olivier Jacque after a thrilling title decider at Phillip Island.
The Japanese moved up to the 500cc class in 2001 with the Gauloises Yamaha Team, with whom he stayed until the 2003 season, when he was replaced by Alex Barros.
Shinya moved sideways into the one-rider d'Antin outfit as a result of that shuffle and finished this year as joint Yamaha runner-up (behind seventh placed Checa, equal with eleventh placed Barros), only ruining his 100% point-scoring record he shared with Valentino Rossi after colliding with Tohru Ukawa at the final round.
As such, Nakano could have expected to keep his M1 ride, but with d'Antin running Ducatis in 2004 his team has effectively disappeared. One Yamaha seat still remains, alongside Marco Melandri at Gauloises, but Yamaha test rider Norick Abe is now being tipped for that entry – hence the Kawasaki rumours.
"Shinya Nakano is an experienced and talented MotoGP rider, so it should come as no surprise that he is one of the riders that we've spoken to regarding the 2004 MotoGP World Championship," a Kawasaki team spokesman told Crash.net.
"However, we're also in discussions with a number of other potential riders, and a final decision as to who will join Alex Hofmann in the Kawasaki Racing Team next season has yet to be made," he added.
As well as Pitt and Nakano, Eric Bostrom could also be in contention for the ride – Bostrom has never hidden his desire to join former rival Nicky Hayden in MotoGP, but is wanted by Kawasaki USA to ride their new ZX-10R in the AMA SBK series.
Nakano's cause could be aided by Kawasaki wanting a Japanese star to replace injured development rider Akira Yanagawa - plus the team's rumoured switch from Dunlop (British based) to Bridgestone (Japanese based) tyres in 2004.
Nakano's best premier-class result is a podium at the 2001 500cc German Grand Prix.