The biggest surprise in the 250cc championship this year has been Hiroshi Aoyama. The Japanese rider has always been strong in the class, winning regularly, but never able to fight for a title. Heading into the 2009 season, the title race looked like being a straight fight between Marco Simoncelli and Alvaro Bautista, yet it is Aoyama who leads the championship. A feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Scot Honda team is fielding an outdated bike on a shoestring budget, and pitting themselves against the well-stocked war chests of two full factory challengers in Bautista and Simoncelli.
Intrigued by Aoyama's success so far, we caught up with the amiable Japanese rider on the Saturday before the Indianapolis Grand Prix, to ask about the season so far and his plans for the future. Here's what he had to say.
MotoMatters: Tell me about how how you arrived in this team.
Hiroshi Aoyama: OK, last year I used to ride a KTM and at the end of the season they decided to stop with this project. It's a pity, but the decision was already made at the last race or one or two races before.
So when we finished the season, normally you know what you are going to do next season, but I didn't know anything, because there was nothing available. It was too late, other teams had already decided, so it was quite difficult to find another team. But at the beginning of this year, we find this team, I was lucky, I had a lot of cooperation to find this team, Team Scot.
MM: Did Honda help you to find this team, or was it you and your manager?
HA: Everybody helped me, and I am very happy about that, and very grateful for this. The time was so late, and we could make just a minimum team. Normally you should have two bikes, but here [at Team Scot] I have only one bike. So one bike and minimum mechanics and there was very short time and we have to do everything, but not everything was ready. We came ready, but it was not … factory. It is different.
So from this point, nobody expected good results. Also the bike is old, two, three years ago they stopped development, so nobody expected anything. I was thinking if I can finish 5th position, 5th or 6th in the race it would be good for us. But somehow, I felt quite comfortable with the bike and also the team, everything is working correctly. Until now we had some difficult races and some good races. But we have had good luck, and now we are 12 points ahead of Bautista, so this is very good for us, but we still have 6 races to go. This 12 points in 6 races is nothing, so one mistake and you can change everything. But anyway, we are fighting for championship, nobody expected that and I'm happy about that.
MM: You've been in the 250s now for four or five years?
HA: I think it's six years ...
MM: Do you think the experience of being in the 250s for six years has helped you, because you're always clever, you've always made good decisions, you never push too hard. Bautista is still young, he chases and pushes and crashes, and Simoncelli does the same thing. You always stay much safer.
HA: (pauses) Hmmmm. For sure it's an advantage if you have more experience. But, I don't know how it affects me. It's better don't crash, then you don't damage your bike, but sometimes you have to push. This is a difficult compromise. Until now, I don't crash so often, maybe just lucky. Many time I was close to crashing, so maybe one day I will crash, maybe tomorrow, I don't know. But anyway, if the others are crashing then that's not good, but I mean you have to fight with them, and if they lose confidence or whatever, for us it's more easy to fight with them.
MM: Do you think that the Aprilias are not as fast as before, or is just that you and the Honda have got on so well that you are able to run with them? Because this is the last year of the 250s, do you think that Aprilia are still working as hard as ever, or is it hard for you to say?
HA: For me it's hard to say, because I don't come from Aprilia, but I think from outside it looks like Aprilia started to race in Superbike so maybe they focus for this project and 250 is a little bit less focus. This is what I can imagine, but I don't know really.
MM: Have you ever ridden an Aprilia, because you were with Honda, then KTM?
HA: No, no, never.
MM: How does the Honda compare to the KTM, because the KTM was such a different concept?
HA: Oh, it's a big difference. I like both bikes, both bikes have different characters. KTM bike was everything built for me because it was a factory bike, but this Honda bike is for everybody, so it's not especially fit for you. But somehow I feel comfortable with bike, and I can push a little bit more in the corner, and this is a good point of this bike.
MM: In previous years, you seemed to have a good year, then a bad year, then a good year, then a bad year. Why is that, can you explain that, is it the bike or the team?
HA: I think it's a combination of the bike, because every year I never ride the same bike, every time I changed the bike, so it's a pity. Sometimes good combination with bike, sometimes not.
MM: Do you think you're going to be able to take the championship this year? Do you think you'll be able to keep the advantage?
HA: Honestly, I don't know, because anything can happen, but I hope we can fight for the championship until the last moment, as long as we can, and if we can fight until the last, then I am happy. Then if we can win, I am very, very happy.
MM: Do you have any plans for next year?
HA: For next season, it's a little bit complicated. I don't know yet. This 250 category is going to change to Moto2. This category is very interesting, but also I would like to go to MotoGP, but there's not so many opportunities, so I have to see what's going on, and if I can go to MotoGP, or if not, I have to stay in Moto2.
MM: Are you talking to any teams, or can you not tell me that?
HA: (Smiles) At the moment, it's better not.
MM: How do you feel about the Moto2 Championship? Do you think it will be a good championship?
HA: Ah, very, very interesting, because now 250s is about 100 horsepower, but this Moto2 is 150 horsepower and 130 kilograms. So it's not so heavy but more power, and same engine and tire for everybody, everybody has equal conditions. So, it's quite an interesting category.
MM: So, obviously you want to go to MotoGP, but even if you don't it will still be very exciting to be racing Moto2?
HA: Yes. If I stay in Moto2, I would like to stay in the best team in Moto2.
MM: Have you ridden a four stroke before?
HA: Some tests, yes, but no races.
MM: Because Shuhei, your brother, Superbikes. Have you talked to him about it?
HA: Now actually he's looking for Moto2 for next season, and he already has some contacts with some teams, and I hope he can find a good team.
MM: So you could be racing against your brother again?
HA: (Laughs): If it happens, it's going to be fun!
MM: You live in Spain, in Barcelona?
MM: What's that like, because Spain and Japan, the two cultures are completely different.
HA: Yes, but if you see during the season, it's quite comfortable to be in Barcelona, because of traveling. I don't like to go after each race to Japan, so it's better to stay in Europe. The weather is good, the food is good, they have rice, Japanese food. So that's a good point.
MM: Do you enjoy living in Spain.?
HA: Yes. Maybe not for ever, but for short time is OK. It's interesting, different culture, different mentality, it's OK.
MM: Does that affect you when you go back to Japan? Do you see Japan differently now you have lived in Barcelona?
HA: I think so, because if you see different culture, you can see your culture in a different way.