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GP Week : Issue 65
At the end of last season, when KTM pulled out of the 250 class, turncoat Japanese star Hiro Aoyama was out of a ride, and the 250 class dying on its feet. A surprise turn- about by Honda saw him welcomed back, as well as an unexpected addition of a top- spec Honda to the shrinking grid. And now he is leading the championship. What an irony, if Honda ends up winning in the last year of the class it helped to kill. GPWEEK: And are you surprised to be leading the championship? HIROSHI AOYAMA: A little bit, yes. Because at the end of last year in Valencia I didn't have any bike. KTM decide to stop the project very late, and all the teams had riders and there was no space. I found out in December that this team (Team Scot) would make a team for me. But everything was very, very late. We didn't have enough testing in winter, we just have one bike. Everything is minimum. So this is not a perfect situation to fight for the championship, compared with a factory Aprilia team. From this point, nobody was expecting to fight for it. At the beginning of the season, I was thinking that the top five would be a good result. Do you still have only one bike? Only one bike. That means you can't risk falling o in practice. (Laughs) It's better not to. Your brother Shuhei also came GP racing. It's obviously a family thing. I have one sister one brother, and all three were racing, but my sister was not professional. Just riding for fun. Now she is not racing any more. You are from Chiba Prefecture, north of Tokyo. Why do so many good Japanese racers come from there? Because -- it is countryside. Nothing to do. Just take a bike and ride. We had many small circuits for minibikes, then pocketbikes -- just 20-30 minutes from my house, a good situation for me. I started racing when I was five, because my father likes motorcycles. He was ... not professional, but one of the good riders in motocross. How does racing against your brother feel? I like it. As we made a racing when we were young, we can repeat in grand prix, so ... And when he beats you? Normally I always beat him. (laughs) This factory-level Honda was not expected in GPs. How much has it changed from the one you rode in 2004 and '05? I would say a little bit better, but not big di erence. The character is the same. Di cult to say exactly, because I was riding three years for KTM, and from KTM to Honda is huge di erence. It's very strange, because we have same tyre, Dunlop, front and rear, but completely different chassis feeling from KTM to Honda. Engine power is very similar. But the front feeling especially, going into the corner -- for me, the Honda gives me more feeling and I can push a little bit more. This makes the difference. The Honda looks smooth and forgiving. This smooth bike character and my riding style makes a good combination. I don't have data from KTM, but my feeling is I am a little bit faster in the corner, so I win a little time there and of course on the straight, because I carry the speed. Speedwise, maybe the Aprilia is a little bit faster. Acceleration it is better, and handling looks better, I think, than the Honda. Because of the different engine layout. The Honda is more wide, the Aprilia is smaller. The Aprilia looks harder to ride at the limit. Yes, I think Aprilia is more nervous, Honda is more forgiving. The Honda is more constant, but not extremely good. The Aprilia is sometimes extremely good, but sometimes di cult to ride. I would like to try the Aprilia 250 one time, but unfortunately this is the last season of two-strokes. How do you feel about the death of 250s? I am very sad about that, because I grew up with two-strokes -- 23 years, always racing two-stroke. I love them. Very light, small engine, very powerful. It will be quite funny if Honda wins the last championship. (Laughs) Yeah. Like Formula One! Ten years ago, there were lots of Japanese in GPs. Now you and a couple of others. What happened? Yes -- Harada, Ukawa, Okada, Ueda, Sakata, many ... I don't know exactly what happened, but I can guess this is connected to the economical situation. Ten years ago, there was a much better situation for the money, and they could do more testing and more racing, so then coming to a better level. But now Japan's economics is not so good, so it is even di cult to race. With no sponsor, you cannot. How about at the lowest level, the little kids? With the kids, the population is coming back. It is getting better. Now we need some backing from a sponsor to grow up these kids. Somebody Japanese is not so bad at motorcycle racing, so I hope to really have some new riders. It has been a year of surprises for the 250cc championship leader, who looked to be out of a ride at the end of 2008. MICHAEL SCOTT spoke with him 5 MINUTES WITH ... HIROSHI AOYAMA 18