Thursday, June 8, 2017
AKIRA WATANABE: 1978 WORLD MX CHAMPION
In the history of the World Motocross Championship, riders representing upwards of 15 individual nations have claimed world titles. However, interestingly, amazingly and almost unbelievably, only one Japanese rider has won only one World Championship. His name is Akira Watanabe and in 1978 he won the 125cc World Motocross Championship. During the 39 years which have followed, no rider representing the nation of 127 million inhabitants has been able to win a World Championship.
Akira Watanabe was born in 1954 in Utsunomiya, Japan and first became intrigued by motocross by seeing 50cc race bike inside the store front window of a motorcycle dealership. He took to the bike quickly, and within two years was racing. Excelling in local and regional races around the nation, by the age of 17, Akira had caught the eye of the Suzuki Motor Corporation and was hired to test, research and develop the brand’s motocross bikes. In 1974, at age 19 and already a professional, he won the Japanese Championship in both the 125cc and 250cc classes. One year later, he fulfilled his boyhood dream of being sent to Europe to contest the 125cc World Championship Series. “Of course I remember Akira,” exclaims Roger DeCoster. “He was based in Belgium, actually, when he raced in Europe. That was during the Gaston Rahier days. He actually spent some time living with Gaston on the East Side of Belgium. He also rode with me. Akira raced the Trans-AMA Series, as well. He was a good rider – a very good rider. I mean you don’t win a World Championship without being a decent rider. Akira was very focused and he really wanted it bad. He came to Europe, which was not so easy for a Japanese rider.