Daijiro Kato

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Daijiro Kato (Katō Daijirō) July 4, 1976April 20, 2003) was a Japanese Grand Prix motorcycle road racer and the 2001 World Champion in the 250cc class.


Kato was born in Saitama, and started racing miniature bikes at an early age, becoming a four-time national champion in the Japanese pocket-bike championship.

He began road racing in 1992, and entered his first Grand Prix in 1996, as a wild-card rider. In the 250cc class, Kato finished third after debuting at his home circuit in Suzuka, Mie, his favorite track. The next year, he won the Japanese Championship, and again entered the Japanese Grand Prix with a wild card, winning the race at this occasion.

In spite of these successes, Kato didn't ride his first full Grand Prix season until 2000, when he started in the 250cc, riding a Honda. He won four races that season (of which two in Japan), and placed third in the championship. In 2001, he literally dominated the 250cc championship. He won no less than 11 races - a record - and easily won the title.

The following season, Kato moved up to the MotoGP class (formerly 500cc) riding for Honda Racing Corporation (HRC). In spite of riding a weaker two-stroke bike the first half of the season, Kato performed reasonably well.

Racing highlights

Year Achievement(s)
  • All Kyushu Area Championship: SP250, GP125, GP250 classes.
  • Ranking: Championship winner in all 3 classes.
  • All Japan Road Race Championship: GP250 class.
  • Ranking: Second.
  • Kato participated as a wild card rider at the world grand prix championship GP250 race in Japan and finished third.
  • All Japan Road Race Championship: GP250 class.
  • Ranking: Championship winner.
  • Kato again participated as a wild card rider at the world grand prix championship GP250 race in Japan and won the race.
  • Kato raced the Suzuka 8 Hours in Japan and finished ninth.
  • All Japan Road Race Championship: GP250 class.
  • Ranking: Eighth.
  • Kato again participated as a wild card rider at the world grand prix championship GP250 race in Japan and won the race a second time.
  • Grand Prix World Championship: GP250 class.
  • Ranking: Championship winner.
  • Kato set a new grand prix world record by winning 11 races throughout the 2001 season. He was also recognized for his efforts to the public by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science and Technology.


On April 6 2003 during the first race of the 2003 MotoGP season at Suzuka, Kato crashed hard and sustained severe head, neck and chest injuries. He was estimated to have hit the wall near the final chicane of the circuit at around 125mi/h (200 km/h).

Many questions were raised regarding the actions of the corner workers immediately following the crash. Kato was thrown back onto the track after hitting the wall and was lying next to the racing line [1]. Normally, when a motorcycle and/or rider are incapacitated on the race track, a red flag is waved and the race stopped so the track can be safely cleared. This did not happen following Kato's accident. Instead, the corner workers dragged his body off the track and threw him on a stretcher, actions that are not in accordance with tending to someone with suspected neck and spinal cord injuries. The race was not stopped.

Kato spent two weeks in a coma following the accident before dying as a result of the injuries he sustained. The cause of death was listed as brain stem infarction. Many of the MotoGP riders wore black armbands or placed small #74's on their leathers and bikes at the following race in South Africa to pay tribute to the fallen racer. There has not been a Grand Prix motorcycle race held at Suzuka following Kato's crash with safety issues at the facility being cited as the reason.

Daijiro Kato leaves behind a wife, Makiko, a son Ikko and daughter Rinka who was less than a month old when he died.

Later in July, during the Suzuka 8 Hours race, Honda paid tribute to Daijiro, who twice won the race, by bearing his racing number of the Sakurai Honda bike of Tadayuki Okada and Chozun Kameya who crashed out of the second lap from a spillt oil on the first corner of the track along with two other bikes of Nicky Hayden and Atsushi Watanabe. Once Tady and two others returned to the pits with their broken bikes, the former 500cc rider was permitted to go back out with a spare bike, as a mark of respect, but was ineligible to win since his original bike was badly damaged and two hours later, Tady returned to the pitlane to retire the bike in a mass applause from the crowd. At the end of the race, the other Sakurai bike of Yukio Nukumi and Manabu Kamada who would win the race, went on to the rostrum to show off Daijiro's helmet bearing his number at the front of his visor and a photo of him on the as a mark of respect. Soon afterwards, the FIM, retired his number.

HRC press release

Corporate Communications Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
The Passing Away of Daijiro Kato
April 20, 2003

During the first race of the 2003 MotoGP Series held at Suzuka Circuit in Japan, Daijiro Kato crashed into the crash barrier on the left side of the track just before the chicane. Kato fell into a coma and had been receiving medical attention for the past two weeks, following the accident. At 00:42am on April 20, Daijiro Kato passed away at the young age of 26. The cause of death was brainstem infarction.

"It was with a tremendous sense of grief that I learned of the tragic passing away of Daijiro Kato. He was one of Japan's representatives in the racing world and was recognized as one of the world's top riders. Kato secured the 250cc Class Championship in 2001 and last year moved to the MotoGP class where he held a world ranking of #7. His performance provided all of his fans with a dream. My heartfelt prayers are with him." (Suguru Kanazawa - Director, Honda Motor Co., Ltd., President, Honda Racing)

Everyone, including Daijiro Kato's fans, have been praying for as quick a recovery as possible and it is truly heartbreaking that he has left us. Our deepest condolences are with Daijiro Kato's family and we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of Kato's fans who were so supportive of him.

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