Kenjiro Shinozuka, 1948–2024 – The Checkered Flag

Kenjiro Shinozuka, 1948–2024 - The Checkered Flag

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Kenjiro Shinozuka, a World Rally Championship race winner and the first non-European driver to win the Dakar Rally, died Monday morning after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 75 years old.

“For the past three weeks, Kenjiro has been working hard to fight the Sahara Desert. At 10:10 AM on March 18, 2024, he crossed the finish line at Lac Rose,” reads a statement from his publicist.

Lac Rose was the traditional finish line for the Dakar Rally during its original run from Europe to Senegal. While the race has not used this route since 2008, Shinozuka could have followed it as part of the Africa Eco Race in January but was forced to abandon those plans after a sponsor backed out. He first raced the AER, co-created by the late three-time Dakar champion René Metge, in 2019 where he finished thirty-fourth.

The AER entry came twelve years after his final start at the Paris–Dakar Rally in 2007. Shinozuka made his debut in 1986 as a factory driver for Mitsubishi. In 1997, he and co-driver Henri Magne led a Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero podium sweep when they defeated Jean-Pierre Fontenay and Bruno Saby; fellow Japanese driver Hiroshi Masuoka made it a 1–2–3–4 for the marque in his Challenger.

Shinozuka joined Nisan in 2003, but was involved in a frightening wreck in that year’s race which resulted in life-threatening injuries. He recovered in time for the 2004 Rally, and contineud to race until 2007.

In twenty-two career Dakars, Shinozuka won twenty-one stages and recorded five more podiums to go with his 1997 win. He and Masouka are the only Japanese drivers to win the Dakar overall.

Prior to rally raids, he was a factory rally driver who competed in the Asia-Pacific and World Rally Championships. He won the inaugural APC title in 1998 along with the WRC’s Rallye Côte d’Ivoire in 1991 and 1992; the 1992 rally was the last under WRC sanction.

He continued his involvement in Senegal even after his retirement and the Dakar’s move from its original course. In 2002, he used his prize money to build and open the Kenjiro Shinozuka Elementary School in Senegal. After having to drop his plans of racing the 2024 AER, he put his old firesuits and merchandise up for sale to help buy supplies for the school.

Kenjiro Shinozuka: 20 November 1948 – 18 March 2024

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