Norick Abe’s son gets World Supersport seat for 2023

Maiki Abe, son of the late 500cc/MotoGP legend Norick Abe, is set to race for the VFT World Supersport team in 2023.
Abe, Japanese MotoGP,
Abe, Japanese MotoGP,

An official announcement is yet to be made but - after running Kyle Smith, Johan Gimbert and Marc Alcoba alongside Marcel Brenner on Yamaha machinery this season - the VFT team’s Instagram account now lists its riders as: ‘Nicholas Spinelli and Maiki Abe’.

Maiki Abe has raced in the Japanese Supersport Championship, Asia Road Racing Championship and Suzuka 8 Hours (27th).

The 18-year-old (whose younger brother Keito also races) attended this year's Yamaha VR46 Master Camp, where he met Valentino Rossi. Norick had been 'a hero' for Rossi early in the Italian's racing career.

Norick Abe burst on the scene by battling for victory as a Honda wild-card in the 1994 500cc Japanese Grand Prix. Although he fell three laps from the finish, Abe had done enough to earn a full-time ride with Kenny Roberts' factory Yamaha team for the following season.

A 19-year-old Abe took his first 500GP podium at Suzuka in 1995, but it was Suzuka '96 that Abe etched his name in the record books as the first home rider to win the 500cc Japanese GP, turning him into a national hero overnight.

"I can remember everything about that race," recalled Abe in 2005. "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 [future world champion] Alex Criville... 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"

Abe took two further 500cc victories, at Rio in 1999 and Suzuka again in 2000.

Abe switched from Roberts to Wayne Rainey's Yamaha team for 1997 and 1998, then became a d'Antin Yamaha rider from 1999 to 2002. He claimed 17 podium finishes during his grand prix career, with a best championship position of fifth (1996).

Luca Cadalora, Norick Abe, Mick Doohan, Suzuka 1994, 500cc
Luca Cadalora, Norick Abe, Mick Doohan, Suzuka 1994, 500cc

Abe (#56), between Luca Cadalora and Mick Doohan, on his 500cc wild-card debut.

‘Norick Abe’s talent was incredible’

MotoGP race director Mike Webb was crew chief for Abe at Rainey Yamaha.

Speaking to in 2017, Webb said: "Norick was probably the nicest motorcycle racer I have ever met. I mean a genuine real nice guy.

“His talent was incredible, in the true sense of the word, meaning sometimes it was hard to believe. However, it was also frustrating at times, especially for him, because he had this amazing talent but he wasn't always able to feel right on the bike.

"It was like he was an artist; some days were incredibly good and the talent just flowed, but there were also bad days when nothing seemed to work. When everything felt right to him, it was amazing to watch.”

Abe struggled to adapt his raw 500cc pace to the 990cc four-strokes that took over from 2002 and, after a best finish of seventh during a 'comeback' season with Tech3 in 2004, he switched to WorldSBK.

Although close on several occasions, Abe never climbed the WorldSBK podium and retired from international competition at the end of 2006.

Norick remained contracted to Yamaha - his employer since 1995 - and returned home to compete in the Japanese Superbike Championship. Abe was holding position, with one round remaining, when he was tragically killed in a road traffic accident involving a truck (for which he was not to blame) in October 2007, at the age of just 32.

Valentino Rossi 'Rossifumi' sticker, 1998
Valentino Rossi 'Rossifumi' sticker, 1998

Valentino Rossi: ‘Abe was a hero’

One of the many people amazed by Abe's explosive 1994 Suzuka ride had been a young Valentino Rossi, who later adopted the nickname 'Rossifumi' ('Norifumi' was Abe's official first name) in tribute.

"I was struck immediately by this wild-card named Norifumi Abe," Rossi, watching the race on TV, wrote in his official autobiography What if I had never tried it. "Abe had long straight hair and even when he was standing still, he looked like a great character. But most of all, he rode like a madman. He was absolutely fearless. I think that that day was the fastest race of his life.

"His racing style made me think he was an absolute nutter. He took turns with his steering locked, and often had to keep himself up with his knee. His suit was usually smoking, and he overtook in the most outrageous spots. His steering finally gave out and he fell... But to me, Abe was a hero."

Valentino Rossi with Maiki Abe, son of Norrick, and Norrick's father
Valentino Rossi with Maiki Abe, son of Norrick, and Norrick's father

Fittingly, Maiki Abe was among the young riders chosen by Yamaha to take part in this year’s VR46 Master Camp at Rossi’s ranch and accompanied on his first trip to Europe by Norick's grandfather Mitsuo.

“Vale was eager to see the son and father of Norifumi Abe, who was such a big inspiration to him,” said Wiliam Favero, Marketing & Communication Manager at Yamaha Motor Racing.

Maiki said: "When I visited the VR46 building and saw many MotoGP motorcycles, I felt a confidence that I will join this team in the future! So I have to stay motivated, and I'll do my best to make it happen.

“Meeting Valentino Rossi on the last evening is a moment I will never forget! When I was in front of him I realised that it was him, the rider that I always saw on TV - it did not seem real.

“During Valentino's training, I took note of his changing direction technique: the perfect lean angle, sliding, and his beautiful lines."

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