After a two week battle against horrendous injuries sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix, former 250cc World Champion Daijiro Kato has passed away at the intensive care unit of Yokkaichi hospital.

26-year-old Kato suffered a 200kph accident on lap three of the season opening event when he lost control of his RCV after the 130R corner, and veered almost head-on into a trackside barrier.

The resulting impact left him in a coma with serious brain injuries, dislocation of the 1st and 2nd vertebrae with fracturing of the 3rd and devastating damage to his spinal chord as well as numerous shoulder and upper limb fractures.

Kato's heart was restarted in the ambulance, and the factory Honda rider defied the odds by showing some signs of improvement - increased blood pressure and stronger pulse - in the days immediately following the incident, although the spinal injuries to his neck alone would never have allowed him anything approaching a full recovery.

Kato only commenced his full-time World Championship career in 2000, but was already on his way to becoming Japan's most successful Grand Prix rider.

In 2001, he beat Mike Hailwood's record of ten wins in a season on his way to the 250cc world crown, while his 17 World Championship victories were enough to equal Japan's greatest GP winner, Tetsuya Harada.

2002 saw Daijiro step up to the MotoGP class as he attempted to become Japan's first ever premier class champion. Initially racing an NSR500 two-stroke, Kato was promoted to a full factory RC211V at the German GP, in July. He would take two second place finishes that season, on his way to 7th in the series.

Such was Kato's reputation that even defending World Champion Valentino Rossi picked him as a title contender for 2003, in what would have been his first full season on an RCV.

That probably sums up the tiny Japanese riders talent best - he was considered one of a very elite group of people that could beat Rossi.

Kato leaves behind a wife and two young children, one of whom was born just days before his accident. and its viewers send their deepest condolences to Daijiro's family, friends and team.

Kato's death is the first fatality in MotoGP since Nobuki Wakai was killed at the 1993 Spanish Grand Prix.

The cause of Kato's accident still remains a mystery, with mechanical failure, contact with another rider or even a near 'high-side' (causing the back wheel to swing around) all possibilities for his sudden change of direction.

Questions also remain as to why the race wasn't red flagged and the apparently 'rushed' manner in which Kato was moved from the race track, given the obvious seriousness of his injuries.

But nothing can change the past, and today MotoGP lost one of its brightest stars.