Daijiro Kato
4 July 1976 -20 April 2003
It's 10 years since the passing of MotoGP "Legend" Daijiro Kato. This is my small tribute to this truly amazing and flamboyant World Champion Motorcycle Racer. I hope it brings back some happy memories for you too.
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 of Suzuka Circuit. 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.
2001 World Champion
In spite of these successes, Kato did not 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 dominated the 250cc championship. He won no fewer than 11 races, a record in 250cc, and easily won the title. In that season he set a new record for the most points in a single season in 250cc class with 322 points.
The 250cc Grand Prix World Championship-winning Honda NSR250 of Daijiro Kato with Telefónica Movistar livery sits in the lobby of the Gresini Racing offices. It is a guiding spirit at Gresini, with his number 74 a part of the company logo.
The following season, Kato moved up to the MotoGP class (formerly 500cc) racing for Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) in the Fortuna Gresini Racing team. Some strong performances on the Honda NSR500 two-stroke bike in the first half of the season including second place at the 2002 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez circuit, meant he was given a full factory supported four-stroke Honda RC211V for the rest of the season; his best result on the RC211V was a second place at the Czech Grand Prix at Brno.
For 2003, Kato remained at the Gresini team, now with sponsorship from Telefónica movistar brought by new teammate Sete Gibernau joining from Suzuki.
A video tribute by ledouche3000
Absent Friends
Daijiro Kato and Shoya Tomizawa
Daijiro Kato and Marco Simoncelli
MotoGP Circuit of the Americas Remembers Kato
In memory of Kato, who was 26 at the time of his death, the MotoGP™ bikes of Alvaro Bautista and Bryan Staring – as well as their teammates in Moto2™ and Moto3™ – will sport his number 74 as the first ever qualifying sessions take place in Austin, Texas.

“The 20th April is a very sad day for us because it marks exactly ten years since we lost Daijiro Kato in a tragic accident in Japan,” says team owner Fausto Gresini. “Today we want to remember him as we knew him, with that smile that met each of his Grand Prix wins and lit up his face on so many occasions away from the track.

“His simplicity, combined with his inspired commitment, were two extraordinary facets of his character. Today we will have the number 74 on all of our bikes – a fitting tribute to a great champion who will always remain in our hearts and who we want to be remembered forever.”
Misano 2006
In 2006, the Misano World Circuit honoured Kato, who lived part of the season in the area, by naming a new access road to the circuit Via Daijiro Kato. That circuit's offices are located on the road named in his memory.
Kato's #74 racing number

2003 Suzuka 8 Hours

During the 2003 Suzuka 8 Hours race held that July, Honda paid tribute to Kato, a two-time Suzuka winner, by bearing his racing number on the Sakurai Honda bike of Tadayuki Okada and Chojun Kameya (who in Turn 1 crashed on spilt oil on the second lap), along with the bikes of Nicky Hayden and Atsushi Watanabe. Once Tady and the 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. Two hours later, Tady returned to the pitlane to retire the bike amid mass applause from the crowd. At the end of the race, the other Sakurai bikes of Yukio Nukumi and Manabu Kamada (who were still racing), went on to the rostrum to show off Daijiro's helmet bearing his number on the visor, and a photo of him on the bike, as a mark of respect.

Afterwards the FIM retired Kato's number, and the bike number 74 has not been used by any rider since.The FIM named him a Grand Prix "Legend".
2003 Suzuka MotoGP
On April 6, 2003, during the first race of the MotoGP season at the Japanese Grand Prix held at the Suzuka Circuit, Kato crashed hard and sustained severe head, neck and chest injuries. He was estimated to have hit the wall near the Casio Triangle chicane of the circuit at around 125 mph (200 km/h).

The Accident Investigation Committee determined that Kato crashed when he lost control of his machine, which entered a near high-side state, followed by an uncontrollable oscillating weave resulting in him leaving the track and striking the barrier. Initially he and the bike struck a tire barrier, followed by a foam barrier. Importantly, there was a gap between the tire and foam barriers. Kato was fatally injured when his head struck the edge of the foam barrier, dislocating the joint between the base of the skull and the cervical spine.

Questions were raised regarding the actions of the corner workers immediately following the crash. Kato was thrown back onto the track after hitting the barriers and was lying next to the racing line. Depending on the type of race (endurance or standard), when a motorcycle and/or rider are incapacitated on the race track, a red flag is waved and the race stopped, or in endurance races and British Superbike Championship events, the safety car is called on the circuit to neutralise the race so the motorcycles are packed-up behind the said vehicle at slow speeds, so the track can be safely cleared. This did not happen following Kato's accident. Instead, the corner workers moved him onto a stretcher and off the circuit. The race was not stopped.

The Investigation Committee noted : "According to images broadcast during the race, four rescue workers took hold of Kato, who lay collapsed face up in the middle of the course, held him by the right shoulder, the torso and both legs, and moved him sideways just a few dozen centimeters onto the stretcher. It certainly appears that sufficient care was taken to immobilize his head and neck area. However, when the stretcher was moved Kato's head drooped markedly, and it cannot be denied that this might have additionally injured his neck."

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. His teammate, Sete Gibernau, has worn a #74 on his racesuit since winning the race in his memory. 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.
For some, the love of Kato will last a lifetime (@timlane76)
Photographs, Video & Accuracy

The internet is an amazing source of images. Unfortunately it is also very good at losing the names of those that created them. To those that I am unable to credit, I thank you for your love of photography and the memories which you capture for the greater good. If you know who should be acknowledged or notice an error, please Tweet me @YoopaMan and we can sort it out.