MOTOGP » Daijiro Kato
Daijiro Kato only commenced his full-time World Championship career in 2000 but was already on his way to becoming Japan’s most successful GP rider of all time when, by the end of 2001, he had secured the 250cc world title and scored 17 GP wins to equal Japan’s greatest GP winner Tetsuya Harada.
But tragically, Kato died due to injuries suffered on lap 3 of the opening round of the 2003 season at Suzuka on April 6, when he lost control of his Telefonica MoviStar liveried RCV just afer the 130R corner at almost 200kph, and veered sharply left into a trackside barrier.
The massive impact left Kato in a coma, with serious head, neck and chest injuries - his heart also had to be restarted on the way to the circuit medical centre.
After being flown to a local Hospital, Kato defied the odds by showing slim signs of improvement (in terms of a slightly stronger heartbeat) in the following days, but the spinal damage to his neck alone would never have allowed him anything approaching a full recovery.
Almost exactly two weeks after his accident it was announced that Kato had lost his fight for life, and with it MotoGP lost one of its brightest stars - he had been tipped as a pre-season title favourite by none other than Valentino Rossi, and almost certainly represented Japan's greatest chance to date of a first premier class World Champion.
Fittingly, whilst MotoGP mourned Kato's loss at round two in South Africa, his Gresini team-mate Sete Gibernau took an emotional victory (less than a week after Kato's death) which he dedicated to the Japanese, pointing skywards on the podium in a clear gesture to the lost #74.
"Daijiro was riding with me," he later said.
Kato started motorcycle racing at the tender age of five, in Pocket Bike competition. By 1985 he had won the Japanese Championship, then moved on to larger Mini Bikes, taking four National Championship titles.
Kato moved to real motorcycles on his 16th birthday, racing 125 and 250 machines until 1994 when he contested the All Japan series and won his first big race at Aida.
He joined HRC in 1996, and raced to third place in the Japanese GP that year, riding as a wild-card. Kato went on to win the race in the next two seasons, again as a wild-card entry before moving to the world championship in 2000, forming an enduring partnership with the Gresini Honda Team which would last to the end.
Kato finished third in the 250cc World championship in his debut season, scoring four grands prix victories. Kato’s 2001 season was little short of sensational.
He scored 11 victories on his way to the world crown, beating Mike Hailwood’s previous record of ten wins in a season.
For 2002 Kato moved to MotoGP, initially racing an NSR500 two-stroke, but was promoted to an RC211V at the German GP, in July. Kato raced to a second place finish on each machine during the season, eventually finishing seventh in the series.
- 2002 Moves to MotoGP with the Gresini team riding a Fortuna sponsored NSR500, but from Brno onwards gets an RCV and immediatley impresses, but his debut premier class victory escapes him. 7th in championship and wins Suzuka 8hrs with Colin Edwards.
- 2001 Wins the MotoGP 250cc World Championship scoring 322 points and 11 wins.
- 2000 Steps up to full time GPs and is third in the 250cc World Championship with 259 points and 4 wins.
- 1999 2nd in the All Japan 250cc Championship.
- 1998 Honda Factory rider - 8th in All Japan 250cc Championship. Again wins the 250cc Japanese Grand Prix as a Wild card.
- 1997 Honda Factory rider - wins All Japan 250cc Championship. Wins the 250cc Japanese Grand Prix as a Wild card
- 1996 2nd in the All Japan 250cc Championship Series with his HRC NSR250. 3rd in the 250cc Japanese Grand Prix as a Wild card.
- 1995 5th in the All Japan 250cc Championship.
- 1994 7th in the All Japan 250cc Championship.
- 1992 Started road racing.
- 1988-91 Japanese Mini Bike Champion.
- 1987 First ride on a Mini Bike.
- 1985 Japanese Pocket Bike Champion.
- 1979 First ride on a Pocket Bike.