Grapevine: Takuma Aoki returns for Dakar Rally

Former 500cc world championship front-runner Takuma Aoki will return to top-line competition in this year's Dakar Rally - his first major event since the accident in 1997 that left him paralysed

Grapevine: Takuma Aoki returns for Dakar Rally

Aoki, the middle of the three 'Fireball Brothers' alongside siblings Nobuatsu (Suzuki's MotoGP test rider and a former 500cc podium finisher) and Haruchika (double 125cc champion), took fifth in the 1997 500cc championship before being paralysed in a testing crash in Japan after the end of the season.

He has since worked with Honda to develop cars specifically for disabled use, and will drive a modified Isuzu on the Dakar.

"It's good to be back and have some racing back in my life," said Aoki. "I went along to the start of the 2004 Dakar in Clermont Ferrand and got the bug then."

He will be joined in the event by former 500cc/MotoGP rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh, who is contesting the Dakar's bike class on a Honda.

"It's good to be starting where I am at number 57 as I don't want to be too near the front for the first few stages," van den Goorbergh said. "We have a massive team, just over 50 people, so I've got some guidance and experience around me."

The Dutchman has been involved in Holland's TV coverage of MotoGP in recent years as well as training for the Dakar aboard his Honda 450 X in European events.

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