Valentino Rossi has tipped Kohta Nozane to become Japan’s next MotoGP star following the Yamaha test rider’s premier class debut last weekend at Motegi.
Nozane, a regular in the FIM Endurance World Championship and All-Japan Superbike series, was drafted in at short notice to deputise for an unwell Jonas Folger at Tech 3 Yamaha for the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.
The 21-year-old impressed during his first day of running on home soil, ending second practice 13th quickest – just behind factory Yamaha riders Rossi and Maverick Vinales.
However, he picked up a small fracture in his right hand with a violent crash in Saturday’s FP4 session, which meant he would start the race from the back of the grid, and ended up crashing out on the fourth lap of the race riding under a local anaesthetic.
Nozane still attracted praise from his rivals for his Friday pace, with Rossi in particular saying he believes the Japanese youngster could go on to have a successful MotoGP career.
“Very good, very fast,” said Rossi when asked what he made of Nozane’s Friday showing. “At the beginning, I followed him and he was very fast.
“He has some experience of the M1, but not since March, and he’s very young. He could be a very good Japanese rider in MotoGP.”
Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal echoed Rossi’s sentiments, and said he would be open to giving Nozane further outings in future.
“Kohta was really impressive on Friday and we thought that he would eventually be fighting for a top-10 finish on race day,” said Poncharal.
“Unfortunately, a small mistake at the beginning of FP4 saw him crash and fracture his right hand, which meant it would be very difficult. Yet, he never gave up and worked hard throughout the night to get his hand fixed.
“I think he has shown that he has a really good level and he could be a very successful MotoGP rider in the near future.
“I don’t know what Yamaha has planned, but it was a pleasure for us to look after Kohta. He is a really nice guy and we would eventually like to give him another chance to show his full potential.”
With Folger still out of action for this weekend’s Phillip Island race, Tech 3 announced on Monday it will field Nozane’s EWC teammate Broc Parkes alongside regular rider Johann Zarco in Australia.