In 2017, Yusuke Watanabe earned the All Japan National IA2 Championship aboard a factory Yamaha YZ250F. For his efforts, Yamaha agreed to support him as he pursued his dream of racing in the United States. This summer, the 22-year-old from Fukushima, Japan, will contest the Lucas Oil 250 MX Nationals with support from 3D Yamaha Racing, Though this will be Watanabe’s first attempt at the Nationals, he’s been training in Southern California regularly for the past couple of years and has contested a few rounds of the TWMX Race Series. While he’s stateside, Watanabe stays with Doug Dubach in Tustin, California, and benefits from the training and knowledge the legendary racer has to offer.

Yusuke, congratulations on last year’s IA2 National Championship!

Thank you. It was a good season for me, and I was happy to win.

Was it an easy road to the championship, or a tough battle?

It was a good battle to the end. I had a big crash at the second round at Toko’s Off-Road Village and didn’t score any points, so I had to come from behind. My leg was broken.

You won the title in spite of a broken leg? How many rounds did you miss?

The schedule in the Japan Nationals has a big break between rounds three and four. I had time to heal! I scored no points at the race I crashed at, though. Our series starts in April and goes to October. Very long with many breaks.

After you won the championship, you told Yamaha that you wanted to race in the AMA Nationals?

Yes. I am very excited about the Nationals this summer. It has been a dream of mine to race in America where the best riders in the world are. I hope to race the IA1 class in Japan in a few years and to do that I need to gain more speed. Racing in America is the best way to gain speed…racing with the fastest racers.

How will Yamaha support you in the United States?

I will be provided with a race bike, and 3d Yamaha will transport my machine. I am not sure what my bike settings will be yet. I test my Yamaha race bike this week. It uses all of Yamaha’s GYTR special parts. But Doug Dubach also had a bike built for me by C4MX and it is so fast! Faster than my factory bike in Japan last year.

We’ve seen you training in SoCal with Doug Dubach several times. How long have you been coming over to train?

I think three years now. It is very good training, but it is very hard work. Doug is a very good coach.

What is your favorite thing about the United States?

I love the weather. It is always sunny in California. It rains too much in Japan. I also love the tracks. So many good tracks to go to with so many fast riders. Today at Pala some of the fastest riders in the world are here.

You’re from Fukishima, Japan. Were you at home when the tsunami of 2011 hit?

Yes! I was at my house. We live in Fukushima on a river. I watched the wave from the tsunami pass my home in the river.

How about the radiation from the Fukushima power plant? Did your skin turn green?

(Laughs) No. But we had to leave our home for several months until the radiation dropped to a safe level. We moved north of our town.