Takahisa Fujinami: Still going strong
By John Dickinson on 23rd Nov 16
TAKAHISA Fujinami, the lone Japanese challenger on the Trials World Championship circuit, is the most senior player in this elite group of riders.
When the 2017 FIM TWC series kicks-off Fujigas will be 37 years old – and starting his 23rd consecutive year in the Championship.
Originally from Mie, Japan, Fuji has now lived in Barcelona for more years than he did in his country of birth and the Spanish city is most definitely home for Takahisa and his wife and three children.
Fuji was just 16 years and three months old when he arrived in Europe to contest his first World Championship back in 1996, making his debut at Navacerrada, Spain, the opening round of the year, when he finished 19th.
He was a larger-than-life teenager with a huge grin, a bundle of energised talent and camped in a small caravan with a massive Rising Sun Japanese Flag flying proudly outside.
It didn't take him long to find his feet away from home, though, as just a couple of months later he claimed his first ever World Championship points with a fantastic sixth place in the British round at Hawkstone Park.
He wowed the crowds all day with his extravagant, full-throttle riding style and has been a firm favourite ever since.
Takahisa has been World Champion just once, in 2004, when he wrested the title from his friend, rival and Montesa factory team-mate Dougie Lampkin, who of course reigned for seven consecutive years prior to that.But Fuji can boast a fantastic level of consistency over the years having finished runner-up in the series no fewer than seven times and matched that number in third-place finishes including a run of five years from 2007 to 2011.
In fact, after finishing his 1996 debut season in a promising seventh place Takahisa has never finished lower than fifth in his 22 seasons of competition.
Fuji had been stuck with the No.5 ranking for the five years from 2012 to 2015 but this year the Japanese ace has simply rolled back the years and bounced back up to third, a fantastic result showing the young guns that there is plenty of life yet in Fujigas.
And they will all need long careers if they are to match Fuji's WTC stats which include 33 victories, the first at Thalheim, Germany in 1997 and the most recent being France in June this year. Fuji has bagged a total of 158 WTC podiums from 311 trials to date having claimed his first podium as a 17-year-old, when he bagged third place in San Marino in 1997.
Other impressive stats include 306 appearances in the Top 15 and an incredible total of 4,243 WTC points.
Fuji's peer Catalan Albert Cabestany, just three months his junior, has so far accumulated 3,123 points from 290 trials.
His X-Trial (Indoor) career has not been anywhere as successful as his outdoor but he remains one of the most popular riders as he always gives 100 per cent and his riding is spectacular.
Fuji has always put on a show, often at the expense of his result. His best X-Trial finish was second back in 2004.
It has been a remarkable career in another way as Takahisa has never ridden for any other marque than Honda – Montesa, firstly on the two-stroke 315R model and then the special four-stroke factory 4RT models.
Fuji recently paid a whistle-stop couple of days' visit to the UK when g2f bossman Jake Miller played host taking in The Dirt Bike Show, a visit to the Hope Technology factory and a Manchester United football match at Old Trafford.
We caught up with Takahisa as he was speed-marched through the Hope factory by Jake, who had set a mega schedule with a road cycle ride (race) in the morning, tour of the works, lunch a!nd then an MTB ride.
We were lucky to sneak him away for five minutes as the MTBs were being lined-up.
TMX: Many congratulations on third place in the Championship once again. What was the difference this year that saw you bounce back up the rankings?
FUJI: Just being fit again and able to train properly and ride how I wanted to. For the previous seasons I seemed to always be injured or recovering from injury and it is difficult. 2016 was good because I trained well and rode well. I am very pleased to finish third.
TMX: Exactly how hard do you train Fuji?
FUJI: Full time, it is my job. I ride for three to four hours every day and then I cycle and work in the gym when I am not riding!
TMX: How do you motivate yourself to train every day, especially in the off-season with no events to specifically aim for? Do you train less in winter?
FUJI: No problem with motivation, I train the same all the time. I ride my bike five days a week Monday to Friday. I love my training, it is what I do.
TMX: 2017 will be your 23rd consecutive season in the Trial World Championship. Having finished third this year what is your goal next season?
FUJI: Realistically I will be fighting for third place again. We all know that Toni (Bou) is the best and Adam (Raga) is next. Then there is myself, Cabestany, Fajardo and James Dabill. There are young riders like Busto and Casales who can join the battle but this did not happen this year. Maybe next year! But I am training hard.
TMX: You have only ever competed for Honda-Montesa and you have recently signed a one-year contract with the Repsol Honda team. Is this normal?
Fuji: For me yes, I have only ever had a one-year contract in my whole career. I don't know why. When I was World Champion I asked for a two- or three-year contract but I was told ‘no, just one year'. It has always been like that for me. But it has worked out okay.
TMX: Are you looking forward to the 2017 X-Trial Championship?
Fuji: Of course, I like all races, it is a short season so not a problem.
TMX: So what have you got planned before 2017?
Fuji: Training! No, in December my family will take a break and go back to Japan to see our families and to visit Honda and see old friends.
TMX: Will 2017 be Takahis Fujinami's last season in TWC?
Fuji: We wait and see, if I have good season then maybe one more year...is normal.