Japan’s alternative heroes

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When it comes to points scored, the most successful Japanese driver in Formula 1 is Kamui Kobayashi, now driving for Toyota at Le Mans, who scored 125 points and one podium finish during a Formula 1 career that spanned five seasons, with a best result of third in Japan (where else?) 
There are several other talented drivers from Japan who ran him close. People such as Takuma Sato (who also stood on an F1 podium once, in the United States, and won the Indy 500 this year) as well as Kazuki Nakajima: another man who has been at the forefront of Le Mans with Toyota. However, there are a few more Japanese heroes out there who are probably less well-known and certainly less successful, but who stand out for having a unique star quality all of their own… 

Taki Inoue
By his own admission, he achieved little in his Formula 1 career, but he more than made up for that with a stellar profile on social media since, casting himself in the role of comic hero. After the first T-shirts appeared quoting Kimi Raikkonen a few years ago – “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” – Inoue suggested marketing his own brand of T-shirt: “don’t leave me alone, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
He may have had a point there, as two of Inoue’s career highlights included being run over by the medical car in Hungary, as well as getting involved in a collision with the safety car in Monaco (driven by rally legend Jean Ragnotti). He describes his time in Formula 1 as a “nightmare” – but at least it gave him plenty of material to tweet about. 
“Thanks to Honda, Taki Inoue is no longer Japan’s biggest Formula 1 failure!” he enthusiastically pointed out recently. And his comments on Bernd Maylander’s laps in the safety car? “Definitely his lap times are faster than mine ever were.” 
For all these reasons, Inoue is one of Japan’s biggest racing heroes.

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Toshi Arai
One of Subaru’s factory drivers on the World Rally Championship was Toshi Arai: a man who seemingly had little idea what to do with the middle pedal on his rally car. Mostly, it was either flat-out, or flat-out into the scenery. Occasionally it worked out for him: he finished just off the podium a couple of times during his WRC career and also won the Production Car World Rally Championship. More often than not though, there would be some sort of adventure that inevitably produced twisted blue metal. His high point was probably Rally Germany in 2002, when he managed to crash twice on the same stage. Still, the crowds absolutely loved him. If in doubt, flat-out.

Ukyo Katayama
Some drivers start running their own teams after they retire, others go into driver management, and a few climb the career ladder at the FIA and other organisations. Ukyo Katayama decided to become a mountaineer instead. But he was probably the best Japanese driver of his generation: in the 1994 German Grand Prix, he even ran as high as third. After his F1 career was over, Katayama turned his attention to Le Mans (finishing second) and the Dakar Rally – where he entered a car powered by cooking oil.
But maybe his biggest achievement was climbing Mount Everest in 2002 without oxygen, although in reality he didn't quite officially make it as he ‘only’ reached the southern peak before having to turn back due to bad weather.
“Actually, the Dakar was harder,” he concluded at the end of the whole experience, while recovering from a bout of mild hypothermia. He may not be the most famous of the Japanese drivers, but he’s certainly the bravest.

Aguri Suzuki
He’ll go down in history as being the first Japanese driver ever to be on a Formula 1 podium. And of course, it had to happen at home in Suzuka, making the whole situation a headline-writer’s dream. His third place at the famous 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, in the unloved Larousse, was achieved with a bold zero-stop strategy, and he finished just 22 seconds behind race winner Nelson Piquet, having started from ninth on the grid. It’s still Lamborghini’s only F1 podium.
Not a bad result from someone who, just two years earlier, had failed to prequalify for every single race of the 1988 season with Zakspeed. His team mate, Bernd Schneider, didn’t do much better – only making it to the grid twice (before retiring on both occasions). When it comes to not giving up, Suzuki could teach some of today’s drivers a few things about tenacity.

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