Yojiro Terada may be 61, but his spirit is still strong, and his speed is still all there. The veteran sportscar driver, dubbed "Mr Le Mans", is back again at this year's 24 Hours for a 29th effort at the legendary race, this time with the new Terramos team.
The length of Terada's career is second only to Le Mans legends Henri Pescarolo (33 starts) and Bob Wollek (30) -- certainly great company for anyone to keep. The next-most experienced driver on tomorrow's starting grid will be Andy Wallace, who will be making his 20th start.
"If I have the spirit, I can do," Terada said of his longevity at Le Mans. "Henri Pescarolo has a great record. I don't want to aim to beat the record, but it's very natural. If I have the spirit, I will continue."
Terramos, though, is very much a new team. Formed by Terada with his co-drivers Kasuho Takahashi -- the team owner -- and Hiroki Kato, Terramos is at this point focused solely on this year's race. Decisions about the 2009 edition of the 24 Hours for Terramos will be made after this one has been written into the record books.
The team is running a new combination of a Courage LC70 chassis, powered by an evolution of the Mugen MF408S engine.
"I already drove a Courage in 1998!" said Terada. "But there has been very much progress since then in every area. Before it was a Porsche engine, now we are using Mugen."
The Mugen will be the only one of its kind on this year's starting grid. With a somewhat unusual strategy, Mugen took the approach of building the MF408S with a 4.0L atmospheric design, a full litre smaller than allowed by the P1 rules. However, with the ACO-imposed restrictor rules, the power output is roughly on par with the Judd engines in the other prototypes.
The compact design, low weight and, most significant, lower fuel consumption, should then provide an advantage for the Courage-Mugen combination. Staring from the 22nd position, the team will need to leverage those advantages, and most importantly, keep the car running for the full 24 hours.
"Our target for this year is to simply finish," Terada said of the team's goals. "P1 is a very competitive class, and if we simply finish, we will be very happy."
Off the track, Terada has been the Chairman of ACO Japan since October 2007. This is a new company started by ACO, with its main objective the establishment of the Asian Le Mans Series. With two events at Fuji and Shanghai announced for the inaugural 2009 season, Terada says that there has already been interest from Dome and two or three other Japanese teams, and naturally Takahashi's Terramos. Additionally, some of the Japanese GT Championship teams have cars that also conform to ACO's GT1 or GT2 rules.
"It is very difficult for an Asian team to come to Le Mans. This year the selection committee received 88 applications, and only 55 cars start the race. And with almost 10 cars from Le Mans Series and American Le Mans Series, plus the factory entries, Asian teams have a very difficult time to enter."
The new series should certainly help the Asian teams in their quest for Le Mans, and provide the Asian endurance fans with top-class racing that has not been seen since the demise of the Japan Le Mans Challenge last year.
And who better to build the new championship series than Terada, "Mr Le Mans?"