Honda 250 cc RC162
and Kunimitsu Takahashi
These pictures and story are from: http://www.honda-wgp.com/500wins/stories/02/stories02.html
In the 1961 Spanish GP, the opening round of the season, Honda won its lucky first ever victory in the 125cc class as a result of the expansion chamber trouble to the EMC which had led the race. The good fortune, however, did not continue on to the 250cc race that followed. Our biggest rival, MV Agusta, displayed its formidable ability and Honda rider Tom Phillis was forced to accept second place, a distant 22 seconds behind Gary Hocking on the MV. For Honda the Spanish GP was not the 'real' opening round. At that time the team was not fully prepared to contest the grands prix. The machine Phillis rode was a modified version of the 1960 model RC161, which was of course a temporary machine. The new RC162 was introduced at the West German GP, the second round of the series. Leading engineering personnel from the factory joined the race team at Hockenheim to perfect the new race machine.
Therefor the German Grand Prix became the focus of our attention as the first race at which we were fully prepared. However, in the 125cc class, despite introducing the new RC144, the results were far from satisfactory. Following Phillis' machine trouble and Jim Redman's crash, Luigi Taveri's fifth place was the best Honda could manage in the 125cc race.
In contrast to the well beaten 125cc, the new RC162 performed well in the 250cc class where Redman took pole position for the race. Second place on the grid also went to Honda. Kunimitsu Takahashi, contesting only his fourth grand prix, qualified the number 100 machine to start alongside Redman.
On August 8, 1959, just two months after our first GP challenge in the Isle of Man TT, w entered the third Asama Plains Volcano Race, a domestic race held at Asama Plains, Japan. There, we not only finished first in the 50cc, 125cc and 250cc races before finishing second in the 350cc class. We also won the both the 125cc and 250cc classes in the endurance race. An almost perfect achievement for the team.
Kunimitsu Takahashi was present that day. Though only nineteen-years-old at the time, he won the Clubmans's 500cc on his BSA, and finished second, behind the BMW of Fumio Ito, in the 500cc endurance race. Of all the young Japanese riders Takahashi and Ito were the most promising during this time. Racing for different teams they were no doubt rivals but at the same time comrades. They were both supplied with race machinery by the Balcom Trading Co, Inc, the largest import motorcycle dealer in Japan.
The following year, with the assistance of Balcom Trading, Ito was offered the chance to compete in the grands prix, riding a BMW. The machine provided for Ito by BMW was a tried and trusted Rennsport 500, a motorcycle in its final phase of race development. Takahashi, on the other hand, took the test that would allow him to enter HSC (Honda Speed Club). He passed the test and his career as a Honda works rider began. At the French GP, the opening round of the 1960 season, Ito raced his 'Old Soldier' Rennsport to a fine sixth place on his World Championship debut. This was the first time a Japanese rider had scored a 500cc world championship point and the name 'Fumio Ito' attracted a lot of attention in the GP paddock. Ito was the first Japanese rider to be referred to as a 'genius.'
In contrast to Ito's dashing GP debut, Takahashi's rise to the top was more gradual. His late arrival for the HSC freshman's welcome party, and crashing out of the Arakawa test track completion party, in front of President Soichiro Honda, indicated that Takahashi was not among the elite. He made a lot of mistakes that masked his true ability. But despite his obvious flaws Takahashi improved at his own pace, through hard training. 'Man of Effort,' a character trait not usually apparent in a genius, was Takahashi's most distinct quality.
On July 24, 1960, Takahashi made his grand prix debut for Honda, in the 250cc German GP, at Solitude. The second year of Honda's challenge for World Championship honours. HSC team leader Kenijiro Tanaka finished third in the race, a magical moment in Japanese GP history, as Tanaka was the first Japanese rider to stand on the podium at a grand prix. Takahashi finished sixth, a more than satisfactory debut, and confirmed the team's expectations of him.
Following his successful World Championship debut, Takahashi was entered in the 125cc and 250cc races at both the Ulster and Italian Grands Prix that year. He finished in sixth place, or better in each of those races to end the season as the 250cc 'Rookie of the Year.' He was no longer a rough novice. Refining his skills during the course of the season Takahashi developed the tactical ability to control his race, regardless of track conditions, or machine performance.
When our second grand prix season drew to a close we took a step towards developing a machine that could actually win races during the next season. The 'Third year,' meant a lot to us. From the start of our first grand prix challenge in the 1959 Isle of Man TT, Director Kiyoshi Kawashima personally thought that the team would need at lest another year, or two, before it was mature enough to win. Kawashima was literally shocked when he arrived in the Isle of Man and witnessed the high level of real grand prix racing. Soon after TT practice began Kawashima wrote to President Soichiro Honda with his impressions of GP racing.
"We finally saw the world and realised we were nothing but a frog in a well knowing nothing of the great ocean. The frog may not swim well in the ocean this year but we do not intend to end up as a mere frog. So, please let the little frog experience the world for at least two more years. I promise you that the frog will grow to know about the ocean in three years from now. Little frog from Japan we may be. But I deeply believe our spirit overwhelms that of big frog from other countries."
Kawashima was not hasty. He knew very well what to do at various stages of the teams development. So, in the first year, he patiently focused on learning all he could about GP racing. In the second year emphasis was placed on gaining a clear view of exactly what had to be done in order to win races throughout a full season. Winning was not the priority in the first and second season. However, for the third year, this was not the case. As we know from the letter written to President Soichiro Honda, Kawashima knew from the start that the pre-season of the third year would be a crucial point for the team. If it were not from Kawashima's great ability to assess current situations and his burning fighting spirit, the team would not have been so well developed in such a short period. His letter was not one clouded in emotional hope, or expectation, it was an objective analysis. As an engineer, as well as a Director with the responsibility for leading the team, Kawashima undoubtedly developed his own considerable personal capability during this period.
The German 250cc GP, July 24, 1961. Redman and Takahashi qualified in the top two places for the race with Ernst Degner, on the two-stroke MZ, Tarquinio Provini's single-cylinder Morini, and 'King' Gary Hocking on the MV Agusta, taking the next three places. These five men were to form the lead group in the race.
The Hockenheimring did not have an infield section such as it has today, and was a rather simple egg shaped circuit. Simple means speed. Indeed it was regarded as a super high speed track that translates machine performance into lap times. When the race had run ten laps Redman lead from Takahashi but Hocking powered the MV passed the two Honda riders to lead. His lead was short lived as he was forced out on lap 12 with technical problems. With the demise of the MV Provini took up the chase. But as the race wound down the Morini slowed allowing the front running Hondas to move clear. Degner could do nothing but watch the backs of the Honda riders as they pulled away from him.
Running nose to tail the two RC162 Hondas raced away from Degner, as they battled for the top step on the podium. Takahashi won the race with a classic last lap slipstreaming pass on Redman. The Japanese rider easing passed Redman on the very last corner of the race. It gave Honda a close one-two finish that illustrated the overwhelming performance of the RC162. Takahashi's time for the 20 lap race not only set a new 250cc race record, it was faster than the 20 lap 350cc race held on the same day.
Following Tom Phillis' win in the 125cc Spanish GP, Takahashi's achievement gave Honda their second ever GP victory. It was also the first World Championship road race victory scored by a Japanese rider. Witnessing a Japanese rider standing on the top step of the podium under the rising sun waving in the sky at Hockenheim, team Director Kawashima was unable to hold back his tears.
Takahashi carried his form through the rest of the 1961 season, eventually finishing fifth in the 125cc championship, and fourth in 250cc title chase. It appeared that Takahashi had made the most positive start possible towards reaching his goal to become Japan's first ever World Champion. At the time, everybody believed him capable of achieving this spectacular feat. However, ill luck befell him in the Isle of Man, the third round of the 1962 World Championship. Takahashi crashed a the high-speed Union Mills section of the course, sustaining serious injuries which left him in a coma for 10 days. There was no other choice than to abandon the title challenge for that year. He made a comeback the following season but a change in team policy, which called for the introduction of commercial racing machines and a cut back in the number of Japanese riders in the team, made it difficult for him to win while racing under those conditions.
In 1965 Takahashi moved to auto racing. His brilliant achievements on two wheels have ensured his name shines brightly on the pages of Japanese auto racing history. Takahashi drove the Nissan Skyline to its legendary fiftieth race victory, he was the best Japanese driver in the 1977 Japanese F1 GP, Takahashi was also a tough competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all that and much, much more.
Looking back over his motorsport achievements, at Asama, in grand prix motorcycle racing and his great success on four-wheels, Kunimitsu Takahashi is without doubt a legendary figure in the Japanese motorsports fraternity. One fine summer day in October, 1999, Takahashi quietly removed his crash helmet in front of 43,000 fans gathered at Twin Ring Motegi to see him bring down the curtain on his outstanding 41 year auto-moto racing career. Gently smiling, the expression on his face as benign as the day he won his first grand prix at Hockenheim, on May 14, 1961.