Overseas TT Heroes: Masayuki Yamanaka

Overseas TT Heroes: Masayuki Yamanaka

Not many riders from Japan have made the lengthy expedition to Manx shores for TT competition, Sagamihara’s Masayuki Yamanaka though is one notable exception.

A prominent exponent of the influential Suzuka 8 Hours, Yamanaka’s first Mountain Course racing tenure at the Manx Grand Prix in 2015, saw him create a unique piece of road racing history.

Runner-up within the Newcomers C race, his podium placing made him the first racer from Japan to acquire a top three finish at the Manx GP.

One year on from his historic feat, 2016 Manx GP competition would see the genial competitor secure a brace of 26th place finishes in the four lap Junior, Senior races.

Growing in stature around the fabled, mythical Mountain Course, he decided after two Manx GP stints that the time was right to make the step up to the TT Races.

Since joining the TT scene, he has recorded respectable finishes a plenty in the Supersport class, whilst last June’s Bennetts Lightweight race saw Team ILR/Mark Coverdale supported Yamanaka place an excellent 23rd, finishing in front of proven talents such as Maria Costello MBE, AJ Venter, Paul ‘Potchy’ Williams and Dave Madsen Mygdal.

Photo by Nick Wheeler

Ending TT 2019 with a best lap speed of 115.695 mph, Japan’s Yamanaka is like others mentioned in previous articles, a true undisputed overseas TT hero.

Back in 2018, prior to his second TT tenure, he spoke in depth about how his ambition of racing the Mountain Course arose:

“Born in April 1968 in Sagamihara in Kanagawa prefecture, Iʼll soon be in my 50’s. If you took my bikes away from me, Iʼd have nothing left. To tell the truth, I’ve led what could be called a ‘bike-nuts’ life. It would be true to say that I love all bikes, but I’ve poured most of my energy into road racing.

Anyone who loves bikes is in awe of the Isle of Man. Since 1907, what is now the worldʼs oldest motorcycle race has been staged on the public roads of the Isle of Man (a self-governing British Crown dependency). Unlike venues which are specially equipped for racing, it is famous for it’s many hazards.

Those who have mastered it can average over 210 KPH, reaching around 300 KPH in a straight line. It is a harsh race, and all those riders who complete it deserve special praise. It is rightly said that it tests riders skill even more than it tests their machines.

In early summer, at the start of the race-season, bike-fans from all over the world visit to spectate. Proudly riding their bikes, they crowd onto ferries, then into the campsites and guest houses of which there are many on the island.

There is the sound of engines from every direction, and there is a festive atmosphere on the whole of the Island. Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, some of the the most popular machines are made in Japan. At the same time that Japanese bikes are admired worldwide, I find the near absence of Japanese competitors and spectators quite mysterious.”

He continued:

“The truth is that in my 30’s, I had only one chance to take part in a race at the Isle of Man. My preparations were complete, but because of an unfortunate political situation that arose just before my departure it was not possible to make the voyage, and I had no option but to abandon my race entry.

My enthusiasm for the Isle of Man was not extinguished, but because of the demands of everyday life another opportunity failed to arise, and I began to give up on the idea.

But having had a life threatening accident at the age of 44 made me ponder, ‘Is it good that my life should end like this?’ Unable to let go of my yearning to go to the Isle of Man, one day I confided in a friend, I’ve got this dream that I just canʼt abandon.

Although she was surprised, my friend encouraged me by saying, ‘Why donʼt you start by just going as a spectator?’ This suggestion lit a fire within me so, despite having only a basic knowledge of English, I took myself there in 2014, at the age of 46.

Just watching the race isn’t enough. After I get there, Iʼm going to see the organisers, I decided. I hurriedly booked a holiday, and for the first time went to Europe.

My appetite to take part in the race grew. Having endured flight delays and a rental-car accident, I finally arrived at my destination, and waited in front of the organisers office, not sparing time to watch the race for which I had so much enthusiasm.”

Words by Stevie Rial

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