MotoGP: Kunimitsu Takahashi has died

Honda legend Kunimitsu Takahashi has died aged 82
Honda legend Kunimitsu Takahashi has died aged 82

Kunimitsu Takahashi, the first Japanese rider to win a Grand Prix, in either the two or four-wheeled categories, has died at the age of 82.

Takahashi was a legend on both two and four wheels, and would also go on to become a successful team owner once his racing career had ended. Takahashi will forever be linked with Honda, joining them as a factory rider in 1960 after impressing as a teenager in the domestic Japanese championship.

In the 1961 season, Takahashi became Japan’s first Grand Prix winner when he sealed victory in the 250cc class at Hockenheim, aged just 21. Not only that, but Takahashi’s victory was also Honda’s first victory in the 250cc class.

Takahashi was also victorious at the Ulster Grand Prix in the 125cc class that season, before going on to take two more career victories with Honda in the lightweight category. Takahashi won the Spanish round at Montjuïc, as well as the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand.

In total, Takahashi recorded four victories, 14 podiums and three fastest laps during his Grand Prix career. A serious, life-threatening crash at the 1962 Isle of Man TT led to Takhashi’s switch to car racing in 1965.

“I am deeply sorrowful on the passing of Kunimitsu Takahashi,” Honda president, CEO and representative director, Toshihiro Mibe said. “He played a major role as a rider on the world championship stage at the dawn of Honda’s motor sports activities, and his four-wheel endeavours, he competed with Honda racing cars for over a quarter of a century, bringing many victories to the company.

“Takahashi’s influence went way beyond Honda, touching the hearts of everyone involved in motor sports. I am truly grateful for his countless achievements.”

Kunimitsu Takahashi on 1963 Honda RC164, Japanese MotoGP 2009

Takahashi began his four-wheeled career with Nissan and raced in various Japan national categories, before making a wildcard appearance at the 1977 Formula 1 Japan Grand Prix, finishing ninth. Takahashi secured three consecutive titles in the All-Japan Sports Prototype series between 1985-1987, driving a Nova Engineering-run Porsche 962. A fourth title followed in 1989.

He also competed in the Japanese Formula 3000 Championship between 1987 and 1992, and raced in eight Le Mans 24-Hour events.

Whilst he was still racing, Takahashi formed Team Kunimitsu in the All-Japan Touring Car Championship, before entering the All-Japan GT Championship. With his team, Takahashi won the Le Mans 24-Hours race in the GT2 class in 1995, driving a first-generation Honda NSX-based car. He continued his racing career until 1999.

Team Kunimitsu still exists today, and won the SUPER GT title in 2018 with Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoko. The latter led the team to another title in 2020.

Our thoughts are with Takahashi’s family and friends at this difficult time.