Last weekend’s inaugural MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Japanese rider Daijiro Kato.
Kato lost his life in an accident in the opening round of the 2003 world championship at Suzuka when riding for the Italian-based Gresini Honda squad.
All Gresini bikes in all three classes at COTA sported tribute 74 stickers on the fairing in memory of the 2001 250GP world champion.
Gresini said: “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. 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.”
Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo gave their thoughts on the anniversary of Kato’s death after they starred in a Spanish clean sweep of the podium at the COTA track.
Pedrosa said: “We have him always on our minds. It is quite strange to feel how quickly the time has gone but in the same way how you can remember him.”
Reigning world champion Lorenzo said: “It was my first race in Suzuka in 2003 and when the MotoGP race was finished I was in a car and I heard about the accident. I respect a lot Daijiro because technically he was one of the greatest riders. When I met him in some hotels he was so small and it was incredible how fast he could be being so small.”
Nine-times world champion Valentino Rossi, who seemed destined to have many great battles with Kato in MotoGP, said: “It was very hard because Daijiro was not a close friend but I knew him very well because he lived close to Tavullia with the Gresini team and sometimes I was with him. It was bad and also because like Marco (Simoncelli), Daijiro was a big hope for the future."
The Gresini squad, run by Fausto Gresini, was hit by further tragedy in 2011 when rising Italian star Simoncelli died in an accident during the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.