Ukyo Katayama was one of several Japanese drivers to try their hand at F1 without making a major impact. However, Katayama was popular in the paddock for his unshakeably sunny disposition and self-deprecating sense of humour.
Born in Tokyo, he first raced in Europe in 1986 in France before returning home to win the Japanese F3000 series in 1991.
His sponsors, Cabin Club, arranged a Formula One seat for Katayama in 1992, with the Larrousse team. The car was unreliable and a distinct midfielder, with team-mate Bertrand Gachot getting the lion's share of the team's meagre resources. However, Katayama impressed by running in 5th at the Canadian Grand Prix until his engine blew, but was eventually left with a brace of 9th places as his best result.
Cabin Club managed to arrange a switch to Tyrrell for 1993, but the team were at a nadir, with the interim 020C essentially three years old, and the new 021 proving uncompetitive. 10th place at the Hungarian Grand Prix was his best result, in a year in which he attracted more attention for accidents.
1994 was to see a considerable turnaround for Tyrrell and Katayama. He impressed with the new 022, scoring two 5th places and a 6th. He also impressed with a number of excellent qualifying performances, running 3rd at the German Grand Prix before his throttle stuck, and generally putting more experienced and acclaimed team-mate Mark Blundell in the shade.
He stayed on with Tyrrell for the next two seasons, but suffered a mystifying loss of form, with two 7th places in high-attrition races his best results. During these years his habit of crashing would re-emerge, notably with a barrel-roll at the start of the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix, and, as a rather short man, was highly disadvantaged by the regulation changes which led to walls being built up around the cockpit, a response to the death of Ayrton Senna. However, it would later emerge that in late 1994 he had been diagnosed with a cancer in his back; while non-threatening, it was painful, and his Grand Prix commitments delayed treatment. Katayama did not announce this until he retired from Formula One, not wanting anyone's sympathy to make excuses for him.
After leaving Tyrrell, his Mild Seven backing landed him a seat at Minardi, but they too were at a low ebb, and two 10th places were his best result. At his home Grand Prix, he emotionally announced his retirement from Formula One.
Still popular in his homeland, Katayama has since dabbled in sportscars and GT racing, as well as his other love of mountaineering. He competed in the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 2nd overall and 1st in the GTP class.
He participated in 97 grands prix, debuting on March 1, 1992. He scored a total of five championship points.
In 2000 he set up Team UKYO, participating in JGTC in the GT500 class in a collaboration with Cerumo. The team left the series after the 2002 season before returning in 2011 to lead Goodsmile Racing's GT300 program. Katayama led the team to three GT300 titles in 2011, 2014, and 2017.
The team also took part in the Dakar Rally in 2002-2005 and 2007, as well as participating as a UCI Continental cycling team starting from 2012.
A keen mountaineer, in 2001 he climbed the world's sixth-highest mountain, Cho Oyu. On December 1, 2006, it was reported that he had achieved his lifetime ambition of climbing Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2004.
On December 18, 2009, it was reported that he had been missing whilst climbing Mount Fuji with two friends. Upon calling a police search and rescue team, they informed the police that one of their climbing party had died, and another was presumed to be dying. Eventually, Katayama was found alive while two fellow climbers were found dead.
He has also climbed Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Denali, Aconcagua, and Vinson Massif
He has also competed in the Honolulu Marathon and Honolulu Century Ride. He has also started a cycling team called Team Ukyo.
He is also a Formula One commentator for Fuji TV in Japan and co-hosts the motoring program Samurai Wheels for NHK World. In 1996 he was a guest judge on Iron Chef.
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