On September 19, 2021, Takahisa Fujinami announced his retirement from 26 years of world championship racing. This is the story of the only Japanese rider to become a champion in the Trial World Championship, covering his first world championship trial in 1996 to becoming the world champion in 2004.
Takaaki “Fujigas” Fujinami debuted in the FIM Trial World Championship in 1996. He was sixteen. He had already won the Japan championship title the previous year, beating Takumi Narita and Pascal Couturier. Moving on to the world stage, the completely unknown rider was armed with the brand new Montesa COTA315R (Honda RTL250R).
His debut trial was in Spain. Fujigas stunned trial fans all over the world by taking the big step, which seasoned riders such as Jordi Tarrés had trouble with, full-throttle and even overshot.
This was when the nickname “Fujigas,” which followed him for the next 26 years, was first coined. Full-throttle, control the bike with his astounding clutch techniques and balance control. This was the Fujigas style.
His father, Yutaka, was his minder. Hiromi, his mother, also joined them in their trekking across the European continent from trial to trial. Two racing bikes, a minder bike and spare parts were crammed into a caravan that would be their home for the next few years. In fact, he lived in that caravan, a necessity for the Japanese rider to compete in the European trials.
Overcoming these challenges, Fujinami excelled in Europe. Despite a first round disappointment ending without championship points, he then scored solid points in each trial, making other riders notice him. At the end of his debut season, Fujinami was seventh overall.
In 1997, his best friend Kenichi Kuroyama became the first Japanese to win a trial, in his third year of competition. Fujinami took only two years to win his first trial, in the German round. He is still the youngest rider to win a world championship trial.
In the paddock, the consensus was that young Japanese riders would be key to the future. Fujinami’s second win did not come easily though. He travelled far to compete in the Japanese championship as well, and was often jet-lagged. The difference in no-stop and stop rules differed between Japan and the world, adding more difficulty to his endeavors. In 1998 he was fourth overall, fifth the following year, and in 1999 was second, but a second win still eluded him. At the time, British rider Dougie Lampkin was the undisputed champion. In 2000, Lampkin joined Montesa, becoming Fujinami’s teammate, biggest rival, and best friend.
The Japanese round began in 2000, giving Fujinami a home round advantage, and more motivation. He was ranked second that season, but podium results were hard to come by in the world championship. The tide changed in the Japan round, where Fujinami had a serious chance of beating teammate Lampkin. He went on to win one round in 2001, three in 2002 (one of which was the Japan round), forging the Fujigas winning formula.
Lampkin, however, still ruled. Fujinami had to do something. He changed how he practiced. He quit the Japanese championship to concentrate on the world stage. From 2003, he bid farewell to the dedicated care of his parents, and formed a professional, Fujigas team.
Lampkin’s riding style took advantage of his large frame to navigate his bike through the sections. Fujinami, on the other hand, went full-throttle. He would lose balance, but coerce the bike to his will to conquer each section. The Fujigas style never changed over two decades.
The 2003 championship was a cliffhanger, undecided into the final round. With six wins, Fujinami was in contention, but Lampkin was still strong. In his fifth year of world championship competition, Fujinami finished second overall. His disapointment became his strength. That’s how Fujigas motivates himself. His hate for losing was the foundation of the Fujigas spirit.
In 2004, his time had arrived. The COTA315R (RTL250R) he had been riding since his debut in world championship trials was improved yearly, and at this stage had in it everything he desired. Both Fujinami and Lampkin had complete confidence in their bikes. Both of them knew, the only other contender was their teammate.
Fujinami won Day 1 of the opening round in Ireland, and went on to win both days in Japan. The fans at Twin Ring Motegi were delighted to see how far Fujigas had come. His powerful riding style was completely different to the Fujigas who could not overcome Lampkin. After his stunning victory in Japan, he was victorious in both days of the American round, and went on to win in France, Italy and Spain. These results, and his win in the final round in Switzerland, gave Fujinami his first world championship title. He was the first Japanese to win the Trial World Championship, and he was only 24.