Following an ill-fated switch to the World Superbike Championship in 2012, Hiroshi ‘Hiro’ Aoyama will return to the MotoGP stage in 2013 as part of the Blusens Avintia CRT line up, marking his first year without Honda since 2008.
The likable Japanese ace went down in history by winning the final 250GP World Championship aboard a Scot Honda RS250RW in 2009, but with two seasons in MotoGP failing to yield a podium, Aoyama will instead look to follow in the wheel-tracks of Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa by enjoying renewed success in World Superbikes with Castrol Honda.
The older of one of Japan’s most famous racing sibling duos, Aoyama was five-years-old when his father took him and his brother Shuhei to a local “pocket bike” race in Chiba, Japan. That was the beginning of Hiro’s 23-year love affair with two wheels. It would be nine years before he started racing, but success came quickly. Hiro won the Kanto District Minibike titles in 1996 and ’97, then moved to 125’s and 250’s the following year.
An ascendant five year career in Japan, all contested on Hondas, culminated in the 2003 250 All Japan Championship for Team HARC Pro, while his title-winning year would also propel him to success on the world stage courtesy of his run to second place as a wild-card in the season-opening Japanese Grand Prix.
Such notoriety would duly earn him a move to the 250 World Championship as a Honda “Scholarship Rider” alongside Dani Pedrosa on the Telefonica Movistar team.
Hiro finished sixth his first year, with two podiums, then fourth the following year, the highlight being a win in his home event at Twin Ring Motegi. A switch to KTM for three years would see Aoyama finishing fourth, sixth and seventh in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively with a total of four race wins, but the relationship would end when the Austrian manufacturer opted out of the series ahead of 2009.
As such, Aoyama happily returned to the Honda family in 2009 for the 250 championship’s final year. His sixth full season in the 250GP class, Aoyama had his sights set firmly on the title, though pre-season favourites rested with 2008 champion Marco Simoncelli, Hector Barbera and Alvaro Bautista, each riding the better fancied Aprilia/Gilera machines.
However, with the trio struggling to find consistency in the early half of the year, not least Simoncelli who missed the opener through injury, Aoyama emerged as the surprise pace setter, winning at Jerez, Assen, Donington Park and Sepang.
Indeed, though Simoncelli claimed six victories, Aoyama’s far greater consistency, which saw him finish every race well inside the top ten, would see him go down in history as the last-ever 250GP World Champion.
As expected, Honda rewarded Aoyama with a graduation to the MotoGP class in 2010 as part of the new Interwetten-backed satellite team, which had taken the place of Scot Racing. Stepping up with Barbera (Aspar Ducati), Simoncelli (Gresini Honda) and Bautista (Rizla Suzuki), much emphasis was placed to see who would emerge as the top 250GP graduate.
In the end, Aoyama’s chances of retaining ‘bragging rights’ over his rivals were scuppered by an accident during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which left him with a fractured vertebra. Keeping him on the sidelines for six races, Aoyama returned to end the season 15th overall with a best finish of seventh.
With Interwetten Racing dropping out to focus on Moto2 only, Aoyama was nonetheless ‘promoted’ by Honda alongside Simoncelli at Gresini for 2011, though he wouldn’t have the benefit of a factory-specification RC212V, unlike his team-mate.
Ironically, with Simoncelli struggling for consistent form over the first-half of the year, Aoyama, buoyed by a career-best run to fourth at the rain-lashed Spanish Grand Prix, actually headed his team-mate for much of the year. Even so, while Aoyama was consistently finishing inside the top ten, he wouldn’t get close to his result at Jerez, keeping him pegged at tenth in the overall standings.
Aoyama’s 2011 season finished on a desperately sad note following the death of Simoncelli during the Malaysian Grand Prix, a tragedy that understandably affected him greatly. The accident came weeks after Simoncelli had signed on to stay with Gresini aboard a sole factory-specification Honda, an announcement that duly prompted Aoyama to look elsewhere for 2012.
In the end, Aoyama would opt to stick with the manufacturer but embark on a new challenge in the World Superbike Championship riding for the Castrol-backed team.
Four years after his brother Shuhei raced for the Alto Evolution Honda team with minor success, Aoyama went into the season looking to become latest great convert from MotoGP to WSBK. However, move would go on to prove ill-fated, Aoyama spending much of his year battling a competitive mid-pack.
Up against the experienced Jonathan Rea, Aoyama struggled to get close to his team-mate, not least in qualifying when he made it into Superpole just once over the entire year. Cracking the top ten just five times and peaking no higher than eighth, Aoyama would end the year down in 18th overall - the lowest placed rider to have started each race.
Despite this, Aoyama’s former success on prototype machinery hadn’t been forgotten and before the season was over he had returned to the MotoGP fold with a one-off outing for Blusens Avintia at Valencia. Proceeding to score points on that occasion, Aoyama will continue with the team for 2013 alongside Hector Barbera – his first season outside the Honda fold since 2008. Career Highlights:2013:
After a tough WSBK season, Aoyama returns to MotoGP as part of the Avintia Blusens CRT outfit 2012:
World Superbike Championship, Honda WSBK, 18th 2011:
MotoGP World Championship, Gresini Honda, 10th 2010:
MotoGP World Championship, Interwetten Honda, 15th 2009:
250cc World Championship, Scot Honda, Champion (4 wins) 2008:
250cc World Championship, Red Bull KTM, 7th 2007:
250cc World Championship, Red Bull KTM, 6th (2 wins) 2006:
250cc World Championship, Red Bull KTM, 4th (2 wins) 2005:
250cc World Championship, Telefonica Movistar Honda, 4th (1 win) 2004:
250cc World Championship, Telefonica Movistar, Honda, 6th 2003:
250cc All-Japan Championship, HARC Pro Honda, Champion
250cc World Championship (2 races), HARC Pro Honda, 15th2002:
250cc All-Japan Championship, HARC Pro Honda, 2nd
250cc World Championship (2 races), HARC Pro Honda, 27th2001:
250cc All-Japan Championship, HARC Pro Honda, 8th
250cc World Championship (2 races), HARC Pro Honda, 28th2000:
250cc All-Japan Championship, HARC Pro Honda, 2nd
250cc World Championship (1 race), HARC Pro Honda, 28th 1999:
125cc All-Japan Championship, HARC Pro Honda, 11th