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WRC and Dakar winner Kenjiro Shinozuka dies aged 75

Dakar Rally and World Rally Championship event winner Kenjiro Shinozuka has died aged 75 after a battle with illness.

Kenjiro Shinozuka,  Pentti Kuukala,  Mitsubishi Lancer

Shinozuka shot to fame by becoming the first Japanese driver to claim outright victories in both the WRC and the gruelling Dakar Rally.

Born in Tokyo, Shinozuka's greatest success came as a factory Mitsubishi driver. In 1988, he claimed the inaugural Asia-Pacific championship alongside co-driver Fred Gocentas. The pair took the title scoring a solitary rally win in India at the Himalayan Rally, driving a Mitsubishi Galant VR-4.

But it was in 1991 when he and co-driver John Meadows left their mark on the WRC by taking a factory-backed Galant VR-4 to victory in the Ivory Coast round of the WRC to claim one of two WRC wins. On this occasion Shinozuka claimed a first WRC win for a Japanese driver with a margin of more than two hours over local Mitsubishi driver Patrick Tauziac.

Shinozuka outlined his skills in particularly challenging rallies by repeating his Ivory Coast success the following season, this time beating Belgian, Opel driver Bruno Thiry.

This was the last of the Japanese pilot’s WRC triumphs having racked up 88 points from 20 starts in a WRC career that began in 1976 and ended with his last outing in Australia in 1997. All bar one start was behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi in a relationship with the Japanese brand that extended into rally-raid.

Kenjiro Shinozuka, Gilles Picard, Nissan Pick-Up.

Kenjiro Shinozuka, Gilles Picard, Nissan Pick-Up.

Photo by: Sutton Images

Shinozuka was equally successful tackling the notoriously difficult Dakar Rally. A third in 1987 was followed by a runner-up finish 12 months later, finishing behind WRC champion driver Juha Kankkunen.

A further two third-place finishes followed in 1992 and 1995, before claiming an outright victory in 1997, driving a Mitsubishi Pajero, after seeing off Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay. The triumph also was the first for a Japanese driver.

Shinozuka secured podium finishes in 1998 (second) and 2002 (third), before ending his long-time association with Mitsubishi to join the factory Nissan operation for 2003 with Ari Vatanen.

However, that year’s event was marred by a nasty crash involving Shinozuka and co-driver Thierry Delli-Zotti, who were both seriously hurt while attempting to navigate a sand dune. Shinozuka was put into a coma but survived life-threatening injuries and returned to contest the event the following year. His final Dakar start came in 2007 where he finished in 59th position. 

He was inducted into the Japanese Automobile hall of fame in 2022 and last year was part of the WRC safety team at Rally Japan.

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