FOUR BROTHERS RACING
The forthcoming Twin Ring Motegi meeting will be an important one as usual for every rider there present, but for regular GP competitors Hiroshi Aoyama and Yuki Takahashi, it will be extra special. Why? Because each of them will be racing against their brothers, and returning to one of the venues they used to fight each other at, in the days when they were the leading All Japan 250cc road racers - just like their siblings are now.
For any rider the advent of their home race is a special occasion. When you are a Japanese rider, travelling far from home and family for most of the year, with the pressure of a works contract to live up to, the advent of Motegi is a pleasure - but a mixed pleasure. The ability to race at home for a change is obvious, but that in itself brings more focus on the raceday performance, making it the single most important event of the season.
For Hiroshi Aoyama (Telefonica Movistar Honda) and Yuki Takahashi (Kopron Team Scot Honda) this year's Motegi will have an additional frisson of anticipation, as each will be racing against their own brother in GPs.
Shuhei Aoyama and Kouki Takahashi are both regular All Japan 250 riders, getting the chance to race at Motegi as wild cards for their Team Harc-Pro Honda and DyDo MIU Racing Teams respectively. Shuhei was eighth last year, but for Kouki, it will be an even bigger weekend of unknowns.
By an understandable quirk of fate, both Yuki and Hiroshi had their 250cc class debuts at Motegi, Hiroshi in 2000 and Yuki in 2002, and now they approach the race as almost seasoned veterans, even the rookie GP campaigner Yuki. Well, compared to their younger siblings at least.
In their early careers both sets of brothers raced against each other regularly in Japan, with all four coming through the ranks to compete at full national level, scrapping it out all the way.
Just as Shuhei and Kouki are fighting for the All Japan 250c crown now, Hiro and Yuki raced each other in that class in 2003, before first Hiro and then Yuki went off to the world of MotoGP racing. But not before each took the All Japan 250 title, Hiro in 2003 and Yuki last year. We caught up with the elder brother from each family to get their thoughts in the run up to their imminent home event.
Aoyama the elder is not exactly a westerner's idea of a typical Japanese racing export. In the European season he is based in Barcelona, and makes full use of the Catalan capital's cuisine, lifestyle and motorcycling obsession. He is so settled in Europe now that he even cut short his summer visit back to Japan to go back and train in Barcelona. The team-mate of 2004 Champion Dani Pedrosa, Hiro mixes in well with his peers, and has even learned some powers of Latin self-expression when things don't go the way they should with his machine. His team has grown fond of his ability to take the job seriously, but not take himself too seriously, allowing them all to strengthen their immediate bonds, both on and off track. We probed him about his thoughts for the forthcoming TRM race, and about racing his little brother again.
1. Why is TRM so special to you?
At TRM there are a lot of fans that support me, and the Japanese fans get to see us (the Japanese riders) racing in a GP. That is very special for us. Like all riders the Japanese want to win their home GP most, it's the only time we race at home in the season. Really, it's the only place each year that our families and friends can see us at a GP.
2. Which are your favourite sections of the track - and why?
The last part - especially where the second part begins - because there is a lot of hard braking and it's very technical. The other part of the circuit is not so complicated, it's easy to ride, but on the other hand It's also difficult to go fast.
3. What was your best race at TRM?
Last year the 250 race was special for me as it was another podium, but also when I won the All Japan Championship, that was quite a moment. That day I won my race at TRM and the All Japan championship at the same time. So that was pretty special.
4. How his is the pressure at your home GP?
There is extra pressure on you to race well at your home GP, family, friends your own expectations. But I like a little pressure; it helps motivate you and keeps you focussed. I can handle it - but not too much pressure!
5. You will race with Yuki (Takahashi) again at TRM. How do you feel about that?
We have been racing against each other since we were boys, our brothers also. We are very good friends, and our families. Sometimes I would win sometimes Yuki, we had a lot of fun racing against each other in Japan.
6. You will also race against your brother Shuhei at TRM. What about that?
My brother will race almost same machine as me, his RS250RW is just a little older than the one I race. Not so much different, the biggest difference being tyres. He will use Michelin I will use Dunlop. Of course I am the fastest (he says, laughing) but if it rains hard at TRM he will win. Naturally I feel some pressure from him because he is my younger brother and he has a good team round him.
6. How do you think the race will go? Who will win it?
Of course I want to win at TRM and I know the track well but a lot of other GP riders are very fast there, plus some Japanese guys.
Moving to Europe was hard work at first for 21-year-old Yuki, but he quickly settled down into the Kopron Team Scot structure, and now adores his adopted country of Italy. Having been seduced by the obvious charms of a Mediterranean lifestyle, he has blossomed both as a GP rider and as a bilingual English and Japanese speaker. His competitive spirit with his close friend Hiro was sharpened to it's finest edge in the 2003 season, when a crash by Yuki at a critical stage of the season helped Aoyama secure the title, a feat Yuki was to emulate in 2004. Again he finds himself in on-track conflict and off-track friendly proximity with his long-term sparring partner Hiro, and among other things, we asked him about his old friend and rival.
1. Why is TRM so special for you?
It's special only because we have the Japanese GP at Motegi. I like all the circuits in Japan, more or less. But Suzuka is my favourite because it's much more interesting to race at.
2. Which are your favourite sections of the track and why?
The section at the end of the downhill straight - the right hand corner there is great to ride. I don't like the last part of the track it's too slow and not very demanding.
3. Best race at TRM?
The 2002 GP when I finished third. I also have good memories of Motegi last year. I won the last race of the year and won the All Japan Championship, exactly the same as Hiro (Aoyama).
4. How high is the pressure for you at your home GP?
Pressure is no problem for me; I get extra energy from pressure. My family and friends will be at Motegi but it will not put me under any pressure to go faster I always want to win.
5. You will race with Hiro again at TRM. How do you feel about that?
It will be good, we can both fight for the win at TRM and I must win. Hiro has one year more experience than me in the world championship but at Motegi we are equal in experience. If we are together it will be a good race for us.
6. You will also race against your brother Kouki at TRM. How do you feel about that prospect?
He is very young, 17 years old and racing in All Japan Championship for the first time so it will be very difficult for him at TRM. Of course I will give him advice if he needs it we are very close. When I go back to Japan we go out riding together. Our other brother, the youngest, is into football not motorcycles.
7. What are your predictions for the race?
I have a good feeling about the race I am riding much better since Donington and Sachsenring, I feel very good on the bike now, we are developing in a very good direction and I am very happy.
The New Wave
Another Aoyama and Takahashi battle is taking place in 2005, that between All Japan 250cc riders Shuhei and Kouki. In a spooky replay of their big brothers last joint championship battle in the Japanese series, Aoyama has won the most recent race, while Kouki crashed, giving Aoyama 77 points to Takahashi's 48.
Given the prowess of the local Japanese wildcards in recent TRM races, we cannot rule out that at least one of the pairing may join either one of the big brothers on the podium. What we can say for certain is that all four of them cannot get onto the three rider podium!
But in Japan, the seemingly impossible can happen. All we have to do is look to the 1995 season, when Takuma Aoki (500cc), Nobuatsu Aoki (250cc) and Haruchika Aoki (125cc) all took podium finishes on their Hondas at Suzuka, an unprecedented happening, which may never be repeated ever again. Ten years on, are we set for another family affair by Honda riders, this time at Honda's new home circuit of Twin Ring Motegi?
Source: Honda Pro Image