Legends: Takazumi Katayama
Takazumi Katayama was different. Born in Korea in April 1951, he spent more than a decade racing in Europe, rode works machines for two factories and in 1977 became Japan’s first world Grand Prix champion.
The British motorcycle press nicknamed him the “Zooming Taxi”. He was more than fast; he was brave, tech saavy and crafty.
Katayama won his first GP at Anderstorp in Sweden in 1974 on a Yamaha 250. He won again at the same venue in 1976 and was second to Harley-Davidson’s Walter Villa in the world 250 championship.
The same year, he made a stunning debut at the toughest circuit of all, finishing second in the Isle of Man 250 TT and fourth in the 500 TT, in the last year the TT counted towards the world GP championships.
Season 1977 was even better. Katayama used a Yamaha twin and a three-cylinder machine built in the Netherlands to claim the 350 crown, winning five 350 GPs.
In 1978 Katayama had a four-cylinder Yamaha 500, alongside Johnny Cecotto and Kenny Roberts. In only his second race on it, Katayama finished third at Jarama. He looked set to win at Assen until a faulty gearbox oil seal leaked oil onto his rear tyre. He rounded out the year with two more podiums. In the 350 class, he won two GPs and beat Gregg Hansford (Kawasaki) by one point to finish second overall.
Honda hired Katayama in 1979 to ride its exotic oval-piston NR500, but his best finish on it was 13th. In 1982, he rode Honda’s new two-stroke NS500 triple, alongside Marco Lucchinelli and Freddie Spencer. Late in the year, Katayama scored the last of his 11 career victories at his favourite haunt, Anderstrop.
He raced Hondas in 500 GPs until 1985 and then became a GP team owner.
By Don Cox