HIRO OF HISTORY: AOYAMA AND HONDA WIN LAST 250 WORLD TITLE2009-11-08 02:50
Hiroshi 'Hiro' Aoyama and Honda won the last 250 World Championship at Valencia today. Aoyama secured the riders' title aboard his Scot Honda RS250RW with a steadfast ride to seventh place, giving him the crown ahead of Hector Barbera (Aprilia) and Marco Simoncelli (Gilera). Next season the Japanese ace will move up to the premier MotoGP class, riding a Honda RC212V.
Aoyama will go down in history as the last king of the 250s, a category that has featured in motorcycling's World Championships ever since the series was born in 1949. From next year the 250s will be replaced by the all-new Moto2 class.
This year's 250 title has a particular historic resonance for Honda. The manufacturer won its first-ever World Championship in the 250 class, when Mike Hailwood secured the 1961 title aboard his four-cylinder RC162. That success was also the first-ever motorsport world title secured by a Japanese manufacturer. In all, Honda has won 16 250 riders' titles and 19 250 constructors' titles over the past five decades. This year Honda took the runner-up spot in the constructors' championship.
Today's race was a real cliff-hanger. 2008 World Champion Simoncelli was the only rider who could beat Aoyama to the crown, but the Italian needed to win the race with Aoyama lower than 11th to take the title. At one-third distance Simoncelli was ahead when Aoyama ran off the track, rejoining in 11th place! The title was finally decided when Simoncelli crashed out of the lead with seven laps to go.
Former Japanese champion Aoyama rode a superbly intelligent 2009 season, winning four GPs, taking a further three podiums and scoring two pole positions. His title success is the culmination of six hard seasons in 250 GPs, starting in 2004 when he came to Europe as winner of Honda's first 'GP scholarship', the reward for his brilliant 2003 All-Japan 250 title success.
Aoyama has spent the vast majority of his racing career on Honda machinery, first on an NSR50 minibike, then an RS125, an NSR250 streetbike and various RS250s. He also rode a VTR1000SPW four-stroke Superbike at the 2003 Suzuka Eight Hours, as replacement rider for Tohru Ukawa and Hitoyasu Izutsu, though he didn't race the machine.
Aoyama is the elder of one of Japan's most famous sibling racing duos. Aoyama and his younger brother Shuhei were both encouraged in their love of motorcycles by their father, who took Hiroshi to the local Chiba pocketbike track for the first time when he was just five-years-old. Aoyama started racing the following year and was soon a regular frontrunner in local kids' races. In 1995 he moved up to an NSR50 minibike and was immediately competitive on the slightly larger machines, winning the Kanto district title in 1996 and 1997.
When he was 16 Aoyama graduated to full-size motorcycles, riding a Honda RS125 in the Tsukuba 125 series and a Honda NSR250 streetbike in the Tsukuba 250 production class. He finished second overall in his first year on the 125, proving he was good and ready to move up to the hard-fought 125 All-Japan series. Aoyama's first year of national racing, riding for the impressive Team HARC (Honda Active Riders Club) Pro outfit, was one of highs and lows â€” he scored his first podium at Sugo but ended the season 11th overall after several no-scores.
However, Aoyama had proved he was worthy of serious support and was offered a 250 All-Japan ride for the 2000 season by Team HARC Pro. He repaid that faith by winning his first All-Japan race at Suzuka and taking another two victories to end up second overall. That summer he also made his GP debut as Wild Card entrant at Motegi, taking an eighth-place finish.
Aoyama won the 250 All-Japan crown in 2003 and showed what he might do on the world stage by taking pole position and a brilliant second-place finish at the Japanese GP at Suzuka. Later that year Honda rewarded Aoyama with its first GP scholarship which took the youngster into full-time GPs in 2004 alongside Telefonica Movistar team-mate Dani Pedrosa. Sixth overall in his debut GP season, with podium finishes at the Japanese and Qatar GPs, Aoyama won his first GP victory at Motegi in 2005 to end his second global campaign an impressive fourth overall.
Three seasons with Austrian brand KTM followed, during which Aoyama scored another four GP victories, including in 2006 KTM's first 250 win and another home race win. Last year was altogether tougher, with several DNFs which consigning Aoyama to seventh place overall. Left without a ride when KTM quit the 250 class, Aoyama signed to ride for San Marino's highly respected Scot Honda team in 2009. He kick-started his challenge for the 250 world title with a stunning win in May's Spanish GP at Jerez.
Aoyama is a quiet, unassuming rider who lives his life around bikes, also enjoying motocross and dirt track. He names cooking as his favourite off-track interest and during the racing season he lives in Barcelona, Spain.
Rider: Hiroshi Aoyama â€” Japan.
Team: Scot Racing Team.
Racing number: 4
Race machine: Honda RS250RW.
Date of Birth: October 25 1981
Birthplace: Chiba, Japan
First race: 1987 Pocketbike Racing.
Grand prix debut: 2000. 250cc Pacific Grand Prix, Motegi â€” Honda.
First Grand Prix win: 2005. Japanese Grand Prix, Motegi â€” Honda.
Total Grand Prix wins: 5 x 250cc. 1 x Honda â€” 4 x KTM.
Total Grand Prix podiums: 20. 7 x Honda â€” 13 x KTM.
World titles: 1 x 250cc with Honda 2009
Career Highlights â€” Hiroshi Aoyama
1996: Kanto Minibike Champion
1997: Kanto Minibike Champion
1998: 2nd 125cc Tsukuba Championship - Honda
1999: 11th 125cc All-Japan Championship - Honda
2000: 2nd 250cc All-Japan Championship - Honda
2001: 8th 250cc All-Japan Championship - Honda
2002: 2nd 250cc All-Japan Championship - Honda
2003: 250cc All-Japan Champion - Honda
2004: 6th 250cc World Championship - Honda
2005: 4th 250cc World Championship - Honda
2006: 4th 250cc World Championship - KTM
2007: 6th 250cc World Championship - KTM
2008: 7th 250cc World Championship â€” KTM
2009: 250c World Champion - Honda
HONDA'S 250 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SUCCESSES
1961 Mike Hailwood
1962 Jim Redman
1963 Jim Redman
1966 Mike Hailwood
1967 Mike Hailwood
1985 Freddie Spencer
1987 Toni Mang
1988 Sito Pons
1989 Sito Pons
1991 Luca Cadalora
1992 Luca Cadalora
1997 Max Biaggi
2001 Daijiro Kato
2004 Dani Pedrosa
2005 Dani Pedrosa
2009 Hiroshi Aoyama
1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2005
HIROSHI AOYAMA Q&A
How does it feel to be the last 250 World Champion in history?
I have been racing for 23 years, so I have been waiting for this moment for 23 years. It's incredible! I am very proud to win this title, and it makes it extra special that it's the last 250 title. Today I wanted to win the race, so I was pushing, pushing, pushing, but finally I pushed too much and went outside of the track. I was riding in the gravel, like riding motocross and I kept telling myself 'Don't crash! Don't crash!' I came back on track, but I was so far back and it was so difficult to think about my position. Finally I saw Simoncelli had crashed, so I knew then that my position was okay to win the title. Today's race was not the best for me but to win the championship is fantastic. This has been a difficult season, but my team staff gave me great support, we had a great team, they cheered me up and gave me extra motivation when I needed it. I want to say a big, big thank you to everyone â€” Scot, Honda, Dunlop, everyone who helped me. It was not so easy, but I could push hard with all this help.
You came to GPs in 2004 as the first winner of Honda's 'GP scholarship' for young riders, how did that change your career?
It's not so easy for Japanese riders to get into Grands Prix, so it was very helpful. It was a great opportunity to participate in GP racing. During those two years I won my first GP at Motegi, which was good for Honda. Those two years were a great experience for me, and, of course, my brother Shuhei won the next scholarship! I respect what Honda did with their programme for young riders. I have been with Honda a long time. I had a good experience riding with KTM for three seasons, but it was nice to come back to Honda. I started out with Honda, so I think my riding style fits Honda machine.
What did you do before you won the GP scholarship?
I rode in the All-Japan 250 championship for Team HARC, which has a deep relationship with Honda. I guess that was when Honda first took an interest in my career. Before that I raced a Honda RS125 in a private team, supported by my family and other people.
Tell us about the highs and lows of 2009.
2009 has been quite good for us! The biggest high was winning my first victory of the year at Jerez, plus, of course, winning the title here at Valencia.
Before the season started did you think you could win the title?
My expectation was that it would be a difficult season, but I wanted to win some races. It was quite difficult to think about title because the team, the bike and everything were fixed very late. KTM decided to stop their 250 programme quite late, so it was late when I signed for Scot. For that reason the winter was very hard for me, because for a long time I didn't know what to do, then at the last moment I found this team, so I was very lucky. But I only have one bike, it's a small team and Honda stopped developing the 250 two-stroke two or three years ago, so no one was really expecting good results.
Why was Jerez so special?
Winning at Jerez is very special, I think it's the same for all riders. Jerez is the first race of the European season, there is always a very big crowd and it is never easy to win there. Somehow I won the race and afterwards I said to myself: 'maybe if I make a good job with this team there is some possibility of the title'.
You won Jerez with some fantastic late braking...
One of the RS250RW's good points is that it is very stable and very comfortable on the brakes. This was probably our number one strong point, so I had to use it to my advantage. It is very good to have a bike that is stable on the brakes because at the end of races, when you are fighting with your rivals, you can overtake easier than others. This helps you make a good race. Also, the overall package of the bike is very good.
What was the low point of 2009?
Phillip Island. We were getting some good result but then we finished seventh at Phillip Island. I didn't feel good on the bike, so I couldn't push so much. Also, Simoncelli had been winning some races, catching me on points, so I thought 'this is not good'. The race was stopped after another rider crashed; without that maybe I could have finished fourth, but after the race you cannot change the result.
You have led the championship for a long while, was there ever a time when you rode for points?
Before Phillip Island I was 28 points ahead of Simoncelli, this is not so much, because if I had crashed, then I would have had no real points advantage. So, I never rode just for points; in Australia I just didn't feel comfortable on the bike. The next weekend at Sepang was good. I had a good feeling with the bike, so I could push hard and win the race.
Has it been good working with Scot?
They are a small team but they know the Honda RS250RW very well. They have worked with Honda for a long time, so they know the bike's good points and negative points, and what they can and cannot improve. That makes racing easier, they have helped me a lot.
How would you describe your riding style?
I think it's difficult to describe your own riding style. I think I need to be more aggressive because sometimes maybe I am too smooth or too calm and sometimes that's not enough. But many 250 riders go to MotoGP and have success so it will be quite interesting to see how I can adapt to this kind of bike. I think I am like a typical Japanese rider â€” I like to analyse riding, data and set-up, so I spend a lot of time meeting with my chief mechanic, my tyre engineer and my suspension staff. This is part of my character.
What four-stroke experience do you have?
At the 2003 Suzuka Eight Hours I was third rider for the Ukawa/Izutsu HRC team, so I rode the VTR1000SPW in practice, but I did not race. I think a MotoGP bike is quite different from a Superbike, with many more rider controls, so I need to ride the RC212V before I understand how I will fit this bike.
What are your winter plans, to train for MotoGP?
I haven't even thought about the winter, I have only been thinking about this last race! This year I have been out of Japan for a long time, so now I want to go home to see my family.
Are you looking forward to being a MotoGP rider?
For me, I feel proud and happy to be a MotoGP rider. But beyond that I haven't thought much about MotoGP, I have been thinking only about 250s. Today a dream came true for me, tomorrow another dream will come true for me when I ride a MotoGP bike for the first time. The level is very high in MotoGP. I will try my best, study and improve, that is my target for next season.
Will you feel pressure being the only Japanese rider in MotoGP?
I don't feel any pressure.
Images of Aoyama's career can be found on the HondaProImages server
Direct link: https://www.hondaproimages.com/sections/photos.php?circuit=Aoyama
Source: Honda Pro Image
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