- January 29, 1940
- Not Active
Kunimitsu Takahashi is a Japanese racing legend who was successful both in the motorcycle racing and car racing.
In 1961, he became the first Japanese rider to win a Motorcycle Grand Prix. He recorded 129 Moto Grand Prix starts between 1960 and 1964, scoring four wins and fifteen podiums. In the car racing, Takahashi reached Formula One in 1977, recording one start with Tyrrell at Japanese Grand Prix.
He achieved the most in sports car racing, taking four championship titles in the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship (between 1985 and 1989) and scoring GT2 class victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1995.
Racing with motorcycles between 1960 and 1964
Born in January 1940 in Tokyo, Kunimitsu Takahashi made his Motorcycle Grand Prix debut in 1960, driving a Honda in 250cc class at German Grand Prix at the Solitude Circuit. Next year, the German Grand Prix took place at Hockenheim and Takahashi scored his maiden Moto GP victory. Later in the season, he won the Ulster Grand Prix in 125cc class.
Later in a career, Takahashi was a winner two times in 1962, at Spanish Grand Prix and French Grand Prix, finishing fourth in the championship standings of 125cc class. It was his best season's result in a career. Takahashi survived a nasty crash at 1962 Isle of Man TT, not competing for the rest of the season. He left motorcycle racing at the end of 1964.
Early years with Datsun/Nissan
After leaving bikes, Takahashi switched a career to car racing. He participated in different competitions in Japan but also went to Australia to drive a Datsun at 1968 Hardie-Ferodo 500 race at Mount Panorama Circuit, which later became the Bathurst 1000 race.
In June 1970, Takahashi won the Fuji 1000 Kilometers in a Datsun 240Z. Three years later, in 1973, he won Suzuka 1000 Kilometers in a Nissan Fairlady 240ZR.
Runner-up in the Fuji Grand Champion Series and Formula 2
In 1974, Takahashi entered a full season of the Fuji Grand Championship Series, driving a March 73S-BMW. He was a race winner two times, finishing second in the final standings.
He stayed in the Fuji Grand Champion Series for two more seasons, then progressing to the Japanese Formula 2 in 1977. He was a race winner two times, ending a season as an F2 vice-champion behind Kazuyoshi Hoshino.
Formula One attempt at 1977 Japanese Grand Prix
In October 1977, Takahashi gets a chance to compete in the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. The Meiritsu Racing Team hired him to drive the #50 Tyrrell 007-Cosworth at Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway.
Takahashi was 22nd on the starting grid but he finished ninth, two laps behind race winner James Hunt (McLaren).
Racing in Japanese Formula 2 until 1986
After his one-off experience in Formula One, Takahashi continued to race in the Japanese Formula 2 and Fuji Grand Champion Series.
He finished sixth in the points of the 1978 F2 Championship after scoring one victory. He was returning to the series almost regularly in the following years (1981, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986), not scoring wins anymore. He was sixth in the points in 1983, driving for Nova Engineering.
Starting to race with Porsche 956 in 1983
In 1983, Takahashi made a debut in a Porsche prototype car, driving Alpha Racing's Porsche 956 at Fuji 1000 Kilometers, a part of the World Endurance Championship.
His first success with Porsche came in June 1984 when he was the winner of Fuji 500 Kilometers, a round of the Fuji Long Distance Series. A few months later, he won Suzuka 1000 Kilometers, a round of the All-Japan Endurance Championship. His co-drivers were Kenji Takahashi and Geoff Lees.
Four Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship titles in a Porsche 962C
In 1985, Takahashi was driving Advan Sports Nova Porsche 962C in the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship, scoring three wins together with Kenji Takahashi and capturing his first championship title. In 1986, Kunimitsu Takahashi and Kenji Takahashi defended their championship title in a Porsche 962C. They were race winners two times.
The third consecutive title for Kunimitsu Takahashi followed in 1987 when he was sharing a Porsche 962C with Kenny Acheson. They were race winners two times. In 1988, Takahashi finished fourth in the Japanese Sports-Prototype Championship and then returned to the top again in 1989. The victorious car was Porsche 962C again, the co-driver was Stanley Dickens.
Eight seasons in the Japanese Formula 3000
While collecting wins and titles in the Sports-Prototype Championship, Takahashi was active in all other sorts of racing. In 1986, he finished second in the Japanese Touring Car Championship, sharing a Mitsubishi Starion Turbo with Akihiko Nakaya.
From 1987 to 1994, he spent eight seasons in the Japanese Formula 3000. He scored no wins but recorded a couple of podiums.
Tragic Le Mans 24h debut in 1986
Except successfully driving Porsche962C in Japan, Takahashi made his first international sports car outing at 1986 Le Mans 24 Hours. Unfortunately, it was a sad event because of the fatal accident of Jo Gartner, Takahashi's co-driver in the #10 Kremer Racing's Porsche 962C. Takahashi returned to Le Mans with Kremer Racing in 1987, sharing the #10 Porsche 962C with Kris Nissen and Volker Weidler. They stopped after just six laps.
In 1988, Takahashi finally reached the finish at Le Mans, taking ninth place together with Hideki Okada and Bruno Giacomelli in the #10 Porsche 962C. One more DNF at Le Mans followed in 1989 when Takahashi was sharing the #10 Porsche with Bruno Giacomelli and Giovanni Lavaggi.
In 1990, Takahashi recorded his fifth Le Mans attempt with Kremer Racing. This time, his car was the #10 Porsche 962 CK6. Sharing a car with Sarel van der Merwe and Hideki Okada, he finished in 24th place.
Two seasons in a Nissan Skyline GT-R
In 1992, Takahashi entered the Japanese Touring Car Championship with Team Taisan's Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. Sharing the #2 car with Keiichi Tsuchiya, he finished tenth in the final points.
Next year, Takahashi and Tsuchiya were partners again in the #2 Nissan, scoring one victory at Autopolis and finishing 11th in the final standings.
Return to Le Mans in 1994, GT2 class win in 1995
In 1994, Takahashi founded the Team Kunimitsu and returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe, partnering with Kremer Racing at the 24-hour race. This time, he was driving the #47 Honda NSX in GT2 class. Sharing a car with Keiichi Tsuchiya and Akira Iida, he finished 18th overall and ninth in GT2 class.
Two GT Championship seasons with Porsche
In 1994, Team Kunimitsu entered selected events of the inaugural All-Japan GT Championship with Porsche 911 Carrera RSR, scoring one victory at Sugo to finish sixth in the points.
In 1995, Takahashi spent a full season in the GT Championship in the #100 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR, scoring one podium to finish tenth in the points of Class 1.
Four GT seasons with Honda NSX in GT500 class
In June 1996, Takahashi recorded his last Le Mans start, driving the #75 Honda NSX and finishing third in GT2 class. Despite his age (he was 56), Takahashi wasn't ready to retire from racing and he stayed in the All-Japan GT Championship as a full-time competitor until 1999, driving a Honda NSX in GT500 class.
In four GT seasons, he managed to score two victories and few more podiums. In 1996 and 1997, the #100 Honda was without wins. Then, in 1998, Takahashi and Akira Iida won the race at Mine Circuit and finished tenth in the final points. In 1999, his last active season as a driver, Takahashi scored GT500 victory at Fuji, ending a year 11th in the points.
The #100 Honda still runs for Team Kunimitsu
Kunimitsu Takahashi closed his successful racing career at the end of 1999, continuing to lead his team and the #100 Honda team. The #100 Honda NSX is still a part of the Japanese premier GT championship. Without Takahashi at the wheel, the team scored its first win in 2005, with two Frenchmen driving (Jeremie Dufour and Sebastien Philippe). In 2006, Sebastien Philippe and Shinya Hosokawa were GT500 vice-champions.
The father of drifting
Besides all his racing achievements, Kunimitsu Takahashi is considered as the father of drifting, a racing discipline which was first popular in Japan and then spread all over the world. Keiichi Tsuchiya, who was Takahashi's co-driver in sports car races, later became known as the Drift King.