Dec 12, 2001
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From a press release:<BR><BR>Proton Team KR have finalised contract details with Japanese star Nobuatsu Aoki, the first of two riders to be confirmed for the England-based two-rider team for next year's premier World Championship series. <BR><BR>Aoki, a GP winner with four years of 500-class experience, joins the team after a year of intensive off-track development work with a dedicated tyre testing team. The process added a great deal to the 30-year-old rider's technical knowledge ... and he covered many more race-track miles than if he'd been running a normal GP season! <BR><BR>Aoki, the eldest of the three famous Japanese "Fireball Brothers", brings a wealth of experience and a strong competitive spirit to the independent Proton Team KR, owned and run by legendary triple World Champion Kenny Roberts. It is the only team in GP racing to design and manufacture its own motorcycle. Aoki and his team-mate will campaign the Mk3 version of the three-cylinder lightweight two-stroke KR3 machine, ridden to 13th overall last year by Dutchman Jurgen van den Goorbergh. <BR><BR>A leading member of the strong force of Japanese riders which has taken its place at the top levels of two-wheel racing over the past decade, "Nobu" cut his racing teeth in his early teens in the rough-and-tumble world of Pocket Bike racing, winning his first national championship at 14. He rose through domestic road-racing to become a full-time 250-class factory GP rider in 1993, claiming his first GP win in Malaysia that year. In 1997 he moved to the 500cc class, finishing third overall in his debut season. <BR><BR>In 2001, Aoki was recruited by the Bridgestone tyre company for a high-intensity development programme for the company's entry to the premier racing class in 2002. It meant taking a year off racing, but completing more laps and more miles in tests at circuits world-wide. <BR><BR>His return coincides with a major change to GP racing, with the premier class completely revised, and renamed MotoGP. The successor to the 500cc class pits new-generation 990cc four-strokes against the existing two-stroke 500cc machines. The Proton riders will be defending the two-stroke faith against the untried newcomers, in what promises to be a fascination year of transition. <BR><BR>Aoki will test the Proton for the first time in January, and is looking forward to the experience. <BR><BR>"The three-cylinder bike is well developed now. I am very curious to see what it feels like. I think it will be a very enjoyable bike to ride.<BR><BR>"It will be interesting also to see how it performs over full race distance against the four-strokes," said Aoki. "The acceleration of the four-stroke is very strong, but at the same time they are 20 to 30kg heavier. Different circuit character and also different weather conditions will all play a part in the race results. I expect a mixed season," he said. <BR><BR>Aoki was also buoyed up by the research element to his year of test riding. "I learned such a lot - about suspension and chassis performance of course, but especially about tyre performance: different compounds and different constructions. We made a lot of progress through the year, and I have plenty of confidence for next season as well. <BR><BR>"It is an honour to ride for King Kenny Roberts, who was a big racing hero when I was younger. Now he has achieved a lot as a racing manufacturer, and I am proud to be part of the team that will continue the achievements," Aoki added. <BR><BR>Team owner Kenny Roberts said: "We are very pleased to have Nobu on the team - he brings a lot of experience. He has ridden a number of different bikes over the years, so he can give us a lot of fresh input - plus there is his year testing the Bridgestone tyres. <BR><BR>"The thing I liked about Nobuatsu is that when the race comes, he gives it 100 percent. He's a bit like Norick (Abe). Practice is one thing, but the race is total commitment," said Roberts. <BR><BR>"This is kind of an interim year for everybody - we expect to race our two-stroke this season, and at the same time prepare to enter with our own four-stroke in 2003," the triple champion continued. <BR><BR>"Our manufacturing base in England has expanded, with more staff and more capabilities - engineering wise, we are on target. By 2003, we will probably be able to build even more in-house than we do already. <BR><BR>"The new 990cc four-strokes will be very powerful, but it remains to be seen how they will perform over full race distance or in difficult conditions. If the tyres work well on the four-strokes, then it will be tough for the two-strokes, but there are no foregone conclusions. <BR><BR>"It's intriguing for us to be getting back to two riders, and to be racing against those new four-strokes at the same time as working towards our own new machine," Roberts concluded. <BR><BR>NOBUATSU AOKI <BR><BR>CAREER SUMMARY <BR> <BR><BR>Born: August 31, 1971 - Gumma, Japan <BR> Unmarried <BR><BR>1982 First motorcycle <BR><BR>1983 First race, Pocketbike <BR><BR>1985 Japanese Pocketbike Championship - First <BR><BR>1986 50cc Minibike - multiple race winner <BR><BR>1987 Triple Japanese Minibike Champion <BR><BR>1988 Japanese 125cc Championship - 13 wins in 20 races <BR><BR>1989 All-Japan TT-F3 Championship - Second <BR> All-Japan 250cc Championship - 13th <BR><BR>1990 First GP, Japan (Wild Card) - Eighth (Honda) <BR> All-Japan 250cc Championship - Eighth (Honda) <BR><BR>1991 Japanese GP (Wild Card) - Fifth (Honda) <BR> All-Japan 250cc Championship - Third (Honda) <BR><BR>1992 Japanese GP (Wild Card) - Third (Honda) <BR> All-Japan 250cc Championship - Third (Honda) <BR><BR>1993 First GP Season, Malaysian GP - First (Honda) <BR> 250cc World Championship - 11th (Honda) <BR><BR>1994 250cc World Championship - 10th (Honda) <BR><BR>1995 250cc World Championship - Sixth (Honda) <BR><BR>1996 250cc World Championship - Seventh (Honda) <BR><BR>1997 500cc World Championship - Third (Honda) <BR><BR>1998 500cc World Championship - Ninth (Suzuki) <BR><BR>1999 500cc World Championship - 13th (Suzuki) <BR><BR>2000 500cc World Championship - 10th (Suzuki) <BR><BR>2001 Bridgestone Tyre Test Team (Honda)