14 September 2005
Abe: The race that changed my life...
Grand prix motorcycle racing arrived in Japan in 1987 and, for seventeen years, was held at the notoriously difficult Suzuka Circuit in the Mie Prefecture.
During that time Suzuka witnessed some of Yamaha's most famous victories, but none more so than that of one of Japan's most celebrated racing heroes, Norick Abe.
Abe made his name at Suzuka in 1995 when, at just 19 years of age, he clinched a stunning podium finish in his first full season of World Championship racing.
However the youngster would etch his name firmly in the record books one year later, when he became the first home rider to win the 500cc Japanese Grand Prix, which turned him into a national hero overnight.
"I can remember everything about that race," smiled Abe, who went on to take two further 500cc victories for Yamaha at Rio in 1999 and Suzuka again in 2000. "It was my second season with Yamaha and I had been very fast in pre-season.
"The first two races of the year were in Malaysia and Indonesia, but they both went very badly for me, worse than they had done in my debut season in '95. The third round was my home grand prix at Suzuka and there was so much pressure on me to do well, it was unbelievable.
"In practice and qualifying I was no good and by the time the race came around the pressure had built up so much that I couldn't even think about what I was doing.
"In the end it worked in my favour because I just went out and raced as hard as I could. Everything came really easily and I was so fast, it was a bit of a surprise! I finished over six-seconds ahead of Alex Crivillé... I couldn't believe it really.
"I remember the next day the interest from the press, television stations and the fans was amazing. More importantly, people within the sport started taking me seriously.
"Some people weren't so sure that I had the talent to win races but after Suzuka '96 they started to look at me differently and trust in my ability. That race changed my life," declared Norick.
Abe, who claimed 17 podium finishes during his GP career, would struggle to carry his 500cc two-stroke pace into the new four-stroke era and - after finishing 16th and 13th in the 2003 and 2004 MotoGP world championships - switched to World Superbike, with Yamaha France, for 2005.
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