After qualifying an impressive sixth yesterday, Shinya Nakano brought his Ninja ZX-RR home in twelfth place in the Africa's Grand Prix at Phakisa Freeway this afternoon, to give the Fuchs Kawasaki Racing Team the best possible start to the new season.

Starting from the second row of the grid, Nakano found himself pushed back to ninth at the first turn after encountering a problem launching his Ninja ZX-RR off the line. The 26-year-old Japanese rider tried immediately to regain the lost places, but was unable to follow the leading group as they broke away at the front of the field.

By half race distance Nakano was embroiled in a frantic battle for tenth place with the factory Yamahas of Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri. After closing the gap on Melandri towards the end of the race, Nakano made a last gasp overtaking move on the former 250cc World Champion into the last corner on the final lap. The Fuchs Kawasaki rider exited with the nose of his Ninja ZX-RR slightly in front, but was unable to hold off the Italian to the line and was forced to settle for a hard fought twelfth place on his race debut as a Kawasaki rider.

Nakano's Fuchs Kawasaki teammate, Alex Hofmann, had a day he'd probably prefer to forget at Phakisa Freeway today. In his enthusiasm to start his first race as a full time Kawasaki rider, the 23-year-old German stalled his bike on the line and had to watch helpless as the pack disappeared off towards the first turn. Fast reactions from his pit crew meant Hofmann was soon on his way, but with a huge gap to make up. With the bit between his teeth, the former European 250cc Champion quickly overhauled Michel Fabrizio and was closing down Nobuatsu Aoki when he had a big crash exiting turn three on lap 16. Battered and bruised, Hofmann was treated in the circuit medical centre for mild concussion.

Shinya Nakano's impressive showing in today's race means that the Fuchs Kawasaki Racing Team head for the second round of the championship at Jerez on May 2nd confident of a repeat performance from the likeable Japanese rider.
Shinya Nakano: 12th

"The bike was creeping a little on the line, which meant I missed the start as I tried to hold it back. Once I got away I couldn't stay with the guys at the front as the rear of the bike felt a little nervous. The bike settled itself down towards the middle of the race and from that point onwards I was able to match my lap times from practice. I had a good fight with Abe, Melandri and Checa from the halfway point of the race, but while I was able to pass Marco into the last turn on the final lap, I couldn't quite hold him off to the line. After qualifying sixth on the grid it was a little disappointing not to have finished in the top ten here today. On the other hand, after my first race aboard the Kawasaki I now know that we are capable of beating factory bikes and battling for position with the latest factory Yamaha. Overall, although I would have liked to finish in the top ten, I'm relatively happy with the today's result."
Harald Eckl: Team Manager

"I feel sorry for Alex because he showed good potential during practice and qualifying, with lap times close to Shinya's, and he looked almost certain for a points scoring finish today. His run of bad luck started with his crash in final qualifying yesterday, which was followed by his stalling on the line and then crashing again whilst chasing hard to make up for the bad start today. Overall I'm satisfied with what we've achieved with Shinya today. Although we had a fantastic qualifying session yesterday, we knew that it was going to be difficult to maintain the same position in the race. Theoretically we knew we could hope for a top ten finish in the race and, while we were close, we just weren't quite close enough. Everyone has improved over the winter, including us, but the gap to the leading riders has not decreased significantly; which just goes to show the quality of this championship. After this weekend's performance we are looking forward to the races ahead, especially Jerez, where we had a successful test recently."