HRC test rider Shinichi Ito hopes that his shock MotoGP return in this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix will to help bring encouragement to those still suffering in the aftermath of March's earthquake and tsunami.
The 44-year-old from Miyagi Prefecture, who witnessed the devastation first hand, came out of retirement and won this year's Suzuka 8 Hours and will now ride an RC212V for Team HRC at Motegi.
"This year I started the role as HRC test rider, but I never thought that I would participate in the World Motorcycle Championship again considering that I'm 44 years old," Ito admitted. "I'm very proud of this as a rider and I am very grateful to all the people who worked to make this possible.
"After the East Japan disaster, TwinRing Motegi has recovered to be able to hold Grand Prix, but in Miyagi prefecture, where I live, there are still many people who cannot return to work. Many people still live in temporary container housing without knowing about the possibility to return back to normal life.
"I am aware that what I am able to do for the victims is very limited but as one of the victims myself, I will do my best to cheer up and to encourage those who suffered the most in the East Japan region and I sincerely hope you can all continue to give your valuable support."
Ito was a full time 500cc grand prix rider from 1993-1996, claiming six podiums. His most recent MotoGP appearance was as a stand-in for Pramac Ducati in the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix, when he crossed the line 15th out of 18 finishers.
Ito will be joined by fellow countryman and Honda wild-card Kousuke Akiyoshi (LCR) in making a one-off return to MotoGP this weekend.
35-year-old Akiyoshi has made seven wild-card MotoGP starts since 2006, most recently at this year's Assen round.
“As a Japanese rider, it is a great honor for me to take part in the Japanese Grand Prix and I would like to thank Honda Racing and LCR Honda for giving me such an opportunity," said Akiyoshi.
"Motegi had suffered a lot from the earthquake in March. We would like to show to all the people from overseas that we, Japanese, are trying to overcome the disaster. I hope all the Japanese riders taking part in the event can show the world that we are trying together.”
LCR boss Lucio Cecchinello said he was happy to help Honda by running a second rider, alongside Toni Elias:
“First of all I would like to thank HRC because they have asked our cooperation for next Motegi GP. We feel proud to give our support taking another Japanese racer on the grid and I hope this will give further motivation to the Japanese fans that are still facing a tough moment after the disaster of last April”.
Another new edition to the Motegi grid will be Australian Damian Cudlin, who is to replace the injured Loris Capirossi at the Pramac team.