Two years ago, at a sweltering hot and humid Sepang, Daijiro Kato finally clinched the world 250cc championship with his tenth victory of a season totally dominated by the Japanese genius and his Honda. It appeared that greater glory beckoned Honda?s favourite son as he moved into the MotoGP class the next year....

Last weekend, in his homeland and surrounded by family and friends, Kato was inducted into the MotoGP Hall of Fame. Joining the greats of grand prix motorcycle racing was both a sad and happy occasion for those people.

Great sadness prevailed following Kato's death after a terrible accident at the opening grand prix of this season at Suzuka, but there was also a great feeling of pride in what Kato had achieved in such as short time as a grand prix motorcycle rider. To join the names of Hailwood, Agostini, Nieto, Ubbiali, Read, Spencer and Doohan in the Hall of Fame was a fitting memorial to a rider who still had so much to offer before he was cruelly taken from us.

The record books will never be able to truly reflect what an impact Kato had made in such a short space of time because his ability in the ultimate test of talent and resolve was only just beginning to flourish.

Two second places in the premier class last year, one on the 500cc two-stroke and the other on the 990cc four-stroke Honda were the platform for his assault on the MotoGP world championship this year. He?d come from a background that would and did please the likes of Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and Carlo Ubbiali - the 250cc championship.

Kato arrived on the 250cc world scene in 1997 by winning the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka as a wild card entry. He returned the following season to once against upset the world stars by repeating his success for the second year. A full time grand prix career beckoned and, in 2000, he finished third in the championship behind Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano. He won four grands prix that year and was clear favourite to take the title in 2001. He did just that.

Kato dominated the 16-round championship and clinched the title at the penultimate round in Malaysia. He won an astonishing eleven grands prix that season before embarking on the biggest challenge of his career.

It was first time that a rider who had been killed in a racing accident had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, although plans are being made for Finnish star Jarno Saarinen to join next year. In many ways Saarinen?s career was similar to Kato?s. He was 250cc world champion after winning four grands prix in 1972, before spearheading Yamaha?s efforts in the 500cc world championship the next season.

He made a sensational start in 1973, winning the opening 500cc races in France and Austria, before losing his life in a terrible 15-rider accident in the 250cc race at Monza in Italy. Like Kato, he had so much more to come. Although it was over 30 years ago and long before e-mail and fax, the radio announcement of his death still remains a clear memory for many people.

This year, British rider John Surtees accepted a well deserved invitation to join the Hall of Fame. He surely will be the only man to win both world 500cc and Formula One car racing titles, but, sadly another British Hall of Fame member died this year.

Barry Sheene was inducted at Phillip Island in Australia two years ago, along with Australia?s first 500cc world champion Wayne Gardner. Sheene not only won two 500cc World titles in the seventies but put grand prix motorcycle racing on a completely different plain. He was the playboy of the seventies and a face known throughout the world for his antics on and off the track - and even for his crashes.

As the grand prix travelling circus leaves the stifling heat of Malaysia behind to sample the windy and certainly colder delights of Phillip Island in spring, memories of Kato will remain.

His ability to sleep at any time and often at the back of a noisy grand prix garage, a grin worth waiting for and a blinding ability to race a motorcycle.

The MotoGP Hall of Fame is a fitting place for such memories, alongside the legends of the sport we all love.

 

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