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Tough times for Kato as the NSR500 bites back

Tough times for Kato as the NSR500 bites back

Tough times for Kato as the NSR500 bites back

The future looked bright for 250cc World Champion Daijiro Kato when he ditched his quarter-litre Honda NSR for the notorious half-litre version last winter. The Japanese star made a smooth transition to the two stroke MotoGP machine and soon began to smash lap records in private tests, often lapping quicker than his HRC colleague Valentino Rossi on the four stroke RC211V. Impressive early season form backed up the philosophy that the 26 year old could lead the two stroke challenge and tackle Rossi´s defence of the top class crown, but a dismal run of results including two uncharacteristic crashes have left his title aspirations in tatters.

After struggling through a rain hit home GP at Suzuka, Kato picked up an encouraging fourth place at Welkom in round two before outpacing Tohru Ukawa to second place at Jerez in round three. That result lifted him to third place in the World Championship classification and fulfilled the general prophecy of the MotoGP community that Kato would be the fastest two stroke rider in 2002. A switch from Dunlop to Michelin tyres even sparked rumours that he could be ready for his own RC211V before the season was out.

However, the Fortuna Gresini rider ran out of luck at Le Mans, France, when he suffered only the second crash of his otherwise impeccable career. The notoriously unforgiving NSR was beginning to bite back and, just two weeks later at Mugello, Kato was spat into the gravel once again. Eighth place at Catalunya and twelfth at Assen represent a haul of just twelve points from the last four races, a record which sees him slide five places in the rider standings to eighth. He will be looking to improve that record next weekend at Donington, where he won the quarter-litre race in 2001 by ten seconds from his replacement aboard the NSR 250, Roberto Rolfo.

MotoGP, 2002

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