UkyoKatayama is a former racing driver from Japan, best known after the years he has spent in the Formula 1 World Championship. He recorded 95 F1 starts between 1992 and 1997 with three different teams (Larrousse, Tyrrell, Minardi).
Before making a debut in Formula 1, Katayama was the Japanese Formula 3000 champion in 1991. He also gained some success in sports car racing, reaching an overall podium and class victory at 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours.
From mechanic to the racing apprentice
Born in Tokyo in May 1963, Ukyo Katayama started his career in motorsport as a mechanic when he was 20 years old. In the following year, he debuted as a driver, racing in Japanese Fj1600. In 1984, Ukyo became the series champion what earned him a place in the Japanese Formula 3, as a pilot of Nissan Hasemi Motorsports team. After he has finished 6th, he decided to go in Europe, believing he was ready to conquer the world of racing.
Katayama found himself in Paris without knowing a word of French. Somehow, he managed to enter the Winfield Racing School at Paul Ricard Circuit where he managed to, partially, refine his raw driving skills. During his career, Katayama always has been accused and convicted of causing too many accidents and no school could change that.
Crash which almost ended Katayama's career
In 1986, competing in Formula Renault, Ukyo Katayama had a horrible crash at Clermont-Ferrand circuit. He broke both legs and a neck, but neither that could stop the Japanese. When he has recovered immediately started to make plans for his comeback. He returned home in Japan and in 1988 competed in Japanese Formula 3000. Ukyo scored only 2 points and took 11th place in the championship. The same year he debuted in 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for the French team Courage Competition. Again he was lucky to escape death after crashing over the barriers and into the trees.
Ukyo Katayama's career was interesting if not successful
Japanese F3000 champion in 1991
The year of 1989 again wasn’t successful for Katayama. He has competed in selected races of International Formula 3000 and Japanese Formula 3000, but his ’achievements’ were unnoticed.
Despite all, Katayama got a chance in Cabin Racing team in 1990 and did pretty well, earning three podiums to finish 5th overall in the Japanese Formula 3000. With the same team, he has won the title in 1991 what was a small surprise.
Unexpected debut in Formula 1 World Championship
Thanks to his sponsor Japan Tobacco, Katayama in 1992 get an opportunity to drive a full season in Formula 1 with Larousse team. Driving an unreliable car for outsiders, he couldn’t achieve too many things. Ninth places in Brazil and Italy were his best results that year.
Katayama changed a team in 1993 when he became the pilot of Tyrrell, but his second year in Formula 1 was even worse than a rookie season. Ukyo managed to finish only five out of 17 races with 10th position in Hungary as the best result.
Ukyo Katayama, Tyrrell, 1994 Formula 1
Katayama scored points only in 1994
In 1994, Katayama retired from 12 races, but in many of them, he was in top 6 before the failure of his Tyrrell 022. But, what was more important, for the first and last time, Katayama scored points that year. He was fifth at Interlagos and Imola while at Silverstone he was sixth. Katayama later stated that he had offers from Formula 1 top teams after that, but that never was confirmed by any team.
He stayed with Tyrrell in 1995 and 1996 and both years were disastrous. They failed to score a single point and managed to finish only 10 of 37 races in those two seasons. He left the team after disappointing years but stayed in Formula 1 for another season.
Final F1 season with Minardi
Thanks to his sponsor, he was granted a ride in Minardi, another outsider team, and again Katayama couldn’t do anything. Finally, before the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix, he has announced retirement from Formula 1 at the end of the season in which his best results were 10th place at Monaco and Hungaroring.
The farewell was very emotional for Katayama, but many other drivers relaxed after the retirement of the racer whose career was mainly marked by causing accidents.
Ukyo Katayama was driving a Toyota GT-One at 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans
Second place at 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours
Of course, that has not been the end of Katayama’s racing career. Earlier he made a contact with Toyota and became their sportscar driver. He has competed in the GT Series but also at 24 Hours of Le Mans where he has achieved probably the most notable result of his career.
In 1999, driving a Toyota GT-One for factory team, alongside Keiichi Tsuchiya and Toshio Suzuki, Ukyo finished 2nd overall and 1st in the LMGTP class.
Katayama was an unusual person on and out of the track. He had the ambition to win a Dakar Rally with his own team, driving a production-based diesel Land Cruiser 4x4, but never managed to do that.
Out of motorsport, one of his dreams was to climb Mount Everest without oxygen. As of the end of 2010, Katayama climbed to five of the seven summits.
This vivid character also competed in marathon and cycling races across the world, worked as a Formula 1 commentator for the Japanese television and appeared as a special guest in many popular TV shows in his country.