Ukyo Katayama

Born:
29th May 1963 (Age 55)
Tokyo
Nationality:
Japanese
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Ukyo Katayama raced in Formula 1 for six seasons – retiring from 62 of his 95 Grand Prix starts. He did finish in the points on three occasions during 1993 but his pleasant personality and adventurous spirit were of more note than any tangible results in F1.

Early racing career

Although much of his formative years were spent in Japan, he did race in France during 1986 and 1987 in Formula Renault and Formula 3 respectively. That first season was interrupted when he broke both legs and his neck in an accident at Clermont-Ferrand.

He made his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1988 when he rolled his Courage C22-Porsche over the barrier at the Porsche Curves in the fifth hour. It burst into flames but Katayama emerged unscathed.

By that time, Katayama was racing regularly in Japan’s Formula 3000 series although it was not until he joined the Cabin Racing Team for 1990 that he became a factor. Katayama finished fifth in that year’s championship – second at Fuji being one of three podium finishes. He then won twice at Suzuka to clinch the 1991 title.

Formula 1 with Larrousse, Tyrrell and Minardi

Further Cabin sponsorship eased his graduation to F1 in 1992 with Gérard Larrousse’s Venturi-Lamborghini team. He collided with team-mate Bertrand Gachot early in the Canadian GP before running fifth. His engine failed that day and he clashed with Gachot again in Japan.

Katayama moved to Tyrrell-Yamaha for 1993 and remained with the team for the next four seasons. The colour of his backing changed to Mild Seven’s blue in 1994 for what was Katayama’s most successful season. His Tyrrell 022-Yamaha finished in a career-best fifth in the Brazilian and San Marino GPs at the start of the season and he was eventually 17th in the world championship.

The next two seasons were unremarkable except for a spectacular startline roll at Estoril in 1995. He raced for Minardi in 1997 in what proved to be his final season at this level. He left F1 as a popular combatant who had crashed all too often. But he had also harboured a secret for he had successfully beat cancer in his back during that time.

Career after Formula 1

Katayama has since raced in GTs and sports cars and his Toyota GT-One was leading the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours when a puncture lost the race. The car he shared with Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya eventually finished second but it was of little consolation.

Recent mountaineering exploits and television commentary in his home country maintained Katayama’s public profile. He planned to climb the highest mountain on each continent and he attempted to scale Everest without oxygen. However, a December 2009 ascent of Mount Fuji ended with tragedy in poor weather. Katayama was rescued from the ill-fated climb but his two companions both lost their lives.