19 May 2014
500cc star Takuma Aoki wins Asian GT race
“I'm very happy because this is my first international [circuit] race since my accident” – Takuma Aoki.
Takuma Aoki, whose promising 500GP career was cut short by a paralysing accident, has taken an emotional victory on his return to circuit racing.
Aoki claimed three podiums for Repsol Honda on his way to fifth in the 1997 500cc World Championship, before disaster struck during a pre-season test in Japan.
Years of rehabilitation and a role as Assistant Director of Honda Racing did little to stem his competitive urge, Aoki telling media in 2007: “I recognised this in the ten years I was away from racing. I cannot live without racing at all.”
An opportunity to compete on four-wheels in the 2009 Dakar Rally ended in an early retirement, while Aoki continued to rally in the FIA Cross Country Rally series with some level of success.
However he was unable to experience the highs of his circuit racing career until this weekend's debut in the 2014 GT Asia Series in Korea.
Campaigning a 550 horsepower V10 Lamborghini Gallardo LP520, Aoki joined former Asian champion Dilantha Malagamuwa in a two-car assault on the 2014 series, Aoki driving a specially-modified GTM class car fitted with hand controls.
Despite no prior laps in the car, then a lack of practice at the Korea International Circuit due to a front splitter problem, Aoki still qualified on pole.
Targeting a podium, Aoki instead swept to a close GTM class victory in the one-hour race - his first in a GT3-car - beating experienced drivers with years of GT competition under their belts.
“I'm very happy because this is my first international [circuit] race since my accident,” said Aoki. “I am thankful for the good opportunity from Dilantha-san and my team, my family and everyone who has supported me.
“I did not expect to win my first race, but I just kept pushing, pushing to do my best, and when the race is over I have come through for the win. I can still find more speed in myself, I just need to do more practice, but so far, I am very happy with the result.”
Aoki's victory wasn't the first in an internationally sanctioned circuit racing event for a driver using hand controls, that honour goes to former F1/Indycar driver Alex Zanardi in the World Touring Car Championship, but it is certainly a first in the Asian region. Aoki then went on to win race two!
Takuma's brothers, Nobuatsu and Haruchika, are also well known grand prix riders.
Haruchika was a double 125cc world champion while Nobuatsu won a 250cc grand prix, claimed podiums in the 500cc class and remains a Suzuki MotoGP development rider.
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