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GP Week : Issue 116
Hiro Aoyama is the last, for the present, of a swathe of Japanese riders who have raced in the premier class. He has returned to MotoGP after serious injury. He spoke to MICHAEL SCOTT 5 Minutes with ... HIRO AOYAMA Hiro Aoyama won the final 250 crown in 2009 and moved to MotoGP last year ... only to break his back early in the season and spoil his year. Now, thanks to support from Honda, he has a new place in the established San Carlo Gresini team. He means to make up for lost time. GPWEEK: Hiro, you seem to be the last of the Japanese riders in MotoGP. What happened to the supply? HIRO AOYAMA: Yes, 10 years ago we had so many Japanese riders. The reason is not so simple. First I think the economic situation has changed. In the past a rider could come to MotoGP if he brought some money or some sponsorship. Also they don’t have any factory teams in national racing in Japan. Before, a good rider could go from private team to satellite team to factory team. You could climb some steps. They stopped factory teams about nine years ago, when I was in the Japanese championship ... but I was lucky, because I had two years GP racing from the Honda scholarship. There is still talent. The level may be a little lower, but some of the young riders are really good. You won the final 250 championship, then moved to MotoGP last year. Did you have to change your riding a lot? The riding style is not so much different. The technical side is much more to study, more to understand. Compared with a 250 of course the power is much more strong, so for your own physical condition and power you have to be stronger. But apart from that, more or less the same motorcycle. But ... a lot of electronic control, and sometimes it gives you a strange feeling. You don’t feel the bike. You ask for power, but it doesn’t give what you want. In many situations, you think it’s a good way but the machine doesn’t follow what you do. You can feel the electronics working. You have to learn to adapt. Of course last year, your first year of learning, you had a big crash and missed the middle of the season. Talk us through? Not a big crash ... quite small, only 60 km/h. I had a cold tyre at the beginning of practice. Unfortunately when I landed I hit my back. Because I had no speed I didn’t slide, and my vertebrae were broken. But I was lucky, because I still can walk. Normally when I crash I try and get away, but that time there was so much pain I realised there was something wrong in my body. And you had to spend some weeks lying still on your back. How did you get through that? It was two months. It was difficult, and also the first year in MotoGP for me, and I wanted to ... it is very important that you ride the bike, to learn the feeling with tyres and the bike. But I had to watch all the races on the TV. Not so good. What are your hopes or expectations this year? I want to be in the top five. Because there are nine factory riders, so ifIcanbeinthisarea,inthetop five, it will be a very good result. Is that realistic? Not easy, but if you think impossible, it becomes impossible. I think we have the speed. Are you still learning how to ride a MotoGP bike? Still getting better? Yes, I am still learning, and the team is still learning about how I ride and what I like. I have to find out how to ride, and how to work in a new team for me. I’d say I am at about 80 percent now. How about your bike – how different is it from the factory bikes? Do you have the new slick-change gearbox? No. My bike is from last year. So it is a little bit different from the factory ... but I believe my package is not so bad. This year the Honda factory bikes and the satellite bikes worked good in winter tests. I think I have a competitive bike. Away from racing, what was the last nice present you bought yourself? (Very long pause.) No Ferrari, unfortunately. I don’t remember anything I bought. For me ... I like to eat. I live in Barcelona, and mainly I cook myself. I have a rice cooker at home, and I cook house food, like your mother cooks athome.ButIamamanandnot professional, so you can imagine ... So sometimes I go to a Japanese restaurant in Barcelona. Good fish, because it is a port, and very good Japanese chefs. Were you in Japan when the ear thquake and tsunami struck earlier this year? I was in Barcelona airport going to the Barcelona tests, and I saw on the TV the big waves coming in to the island. At first I thought it was a movie. Then I was really shocked. I called my family, but there was no connection, so I could not check. But a few days later I found my family and friends were okay. We live 200 km from where the nuclear place is. Last week I was in Japan. I stayed for a few days. Looks like everything is normal. Ever ybody is really worried about radiation. The thing is, you don’t smell it, you don’t feel it, you don’t see it. I was seeing children playing outside, people taking their dog for a walk, so looks like very normal. I was surprised. It’s not so good. We will see 20 years later. 18