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YAMAHA YD RACER
The early history of Yamaha Racing
Catalina Grand Prix 1958
Above. Factory shot of the Prototype Catalina Spec YD Racer, wearing Ito's number #33 developed for the USA during late '57 early '58, identified by footpegs welded directly onto top of bottom frame rail. Yamaha state that this machine was the Asama race winning YD-A and subsequently identified as YD-A, frame # YD21. The following 4 Catalina machines were factory equipped and can be identified by the footpeg mountings, having 2 large "spools" mounted below and 1 above the lower frame tube on which the footpegs themselves were bolted.
Below. The Catalina Prototype at rest outside Sonny Angel's garage shortly after the Catalina GP. The high pipes have been replaced with the original Asama spec low pipes and scorch marks are evident on the front frame down tubes where the header pipes have burnt the original grey paint. The simple foot pegs are clear to see, and there are no signs of mounting spools on the bottom of the frame tube. This bike appears to be #10 in the Catalina GP as ridden by Jerry Close.
After the tremendous success at Mount Asama and Yamaha now being the unrivalled race leaders in Japan, President Kawakami decided it was time to trial their machines against foreign competition. A small International event on Catalina Island, off the Californian coast was chosen. The Catalina Grand Prix consisted of 10 laps of a hybrid circuit 1 mile long with approx 2/3 the length of the circuit was sandy and rocky off-road track and remaining 1/3 was tarmac, It was as close to the volcanic ash circuit of Asama as Yamaha could have found.
In February 1958, well before the race in May, the Asama Highlands race winning Yamaha YD-A was exported to the US for secret testing and preparation ahead of the Catalina GP. The bike was converted to a more conventional "Westernised" scrambler configuration, with high bars, high pipes with heat shields, smaller fuel tank (taken from the 125 YA racer) and high footpegs. It has been suggested that Fumio Ito tested the machine, hence the #33 on the prototype machine, but this has not been confirmed to date, although Ito, along with President Kawakami San and Ono San, the Engineering Manager visited Catalina in March to assess the Island before the race (Cite: Colin MacKellar, Yamaha, Factory and production road racing two strokes, 1995).
The remaining 4 YD machines were prepared back in Japan at the Yamaha factory during early 1958, being shipped from Japan on 23rd March, arriving at the US on April 8th.
Below : The Factory 1958 Catalina Spec YD Yamaha.
Note: Some history books record all 5 machines as being YD-B spec, which is clearly not the case.
Catalina Grand Prix, May 3rd 1958
The machines were initially dispatched to Martys Foreign Motors in California, Yamaha's first US outlet and base for the event. Allegedly, Martys Motors "couldn't afford or didn't want to pay for all 5 bikes to have new tyres fitted for the race and Long Beach Triumph took over the job whilst at Catalina Island" So says Jack Coulson, who was spannering for one of the Yamaha's supported by Long Beach Triumph. Jack can be seen in the above photo of Fumio Ito, he is wearing a dark shirt and sunglasses behind Ito San. .
Yamaha fielded a team a 5 riders and bikes, led by Fumio Ito, although only 3 were listed as Yamaha's in the programme due to the lateness of their entry. Two of the riders were recorded as being entered on other makes machinery, confusing the history even further. The other team members were local American club level riders.
#33 Fumio Ito (Yamaha)
#7 Earl Wilson (entered on a Maico)
#9 Doug Yearkes (Yamaha)
#10 Jerry Close (Yamaha)
#21 Ray Presho (Entered on a XXX)
Below shows the 250 event start line with 7, 9, 10 & 21 just visible. Because of the late entry of several of the riders, not all were listed as being entered on Yamaha's.
Some screen shots taken from the excellent Yamaha video from the Catalina Races.
Jerry Close #10 & Fumio Ito #33 celebrate after finishing the Catalina Grand Prix 1958. Close was classed as DNF as although still racing, he was too far behind when the flag fell.
Above : Click to view the excellent YAMAHA 1958 CATALINA GP film on You Tube
It has been well documented that Fumio Ito #33 finished a highly creditable 6th position, but the end of the video you can clearly see that Yamaha rider # 10 Jerry Close also crosses the chequered flag in a field of just 11 finishers. Yamaha had become the first Japanese motorcycle manufacturer to compete outside of Japan. After the Catalina GP, the bikes were shipped back to the Californian mainland and Fumio Ito raced in a few road races such as at the Los Angeles Speedway. Ito won a race but in another he sportingly let others win after storming ahead and gained a reputation for being a true sportsman.The following is a great eye witness account of the Yamaha team's arrival at Catalina, courtesy of the RMTA:
The Yamaha Team returned to Japan, but the bikes remained in the US, for 2 reasons; 1) The rules for the Asama races now insisted that machines were to be based on production machines, making the YD's illegal in the next years 1959 event, and 2) The bikes were turning heads and performing well, so could be used as a valuable marketing tool to promote the brand in the US. There was also an amusing rumour that Yamaha left the bikes to pay for the air fares home !
Yamaha International Industries, USA retained the bikes which were held at Martys Motors and ran them in road races, such as at Dodge City, where Roxy Rockwood, shown below, won his race and later on September 14th '58 finished 3rd at Riverside Raceway CA. Gene Wise led the team in events in Southern California.
Note the hand written note "Yamaha PQ Racer" on the picture below; PQ was actually the engine number prefix on this YD-B machine. Thanks to the evidence of the remaining machines and parts examined, it is now known that "PQ" engine number prefix's refer to the 50 x 56 YD-B spec engines and the 54 x 54 YD-A's were stamped with a "P" prefix only.
Roxy Rockwood rode the Yamaha's on several occassions; here are his results recorded at the Daytona Drag races April 1959 and Dodge City October 1958. Note: The Daytona race was a 80 cu. in. "big bike" race race, dominated by 750 Harleys...
The great colour poster above in Japanese language poster shows the prototype Catalina YD-A #33 and promotes a victory for Gene Wise (a founding AFM member in California) riding one of the Catalina YD's at the AFM Willow Springs championship on November 2nd 1958. It seems that at the end of 1958, early 1959, 2 YD machines were left with Gene Wise, and later after he had ridden on of Gene's bikes, 2 machines were left with Sonny Angel in National City, San Diego, Ca. And, at some point the other machine appears to have been sent to the East Coast Yamaha Dealer, George Caswell
At least one of the YD engines was fitted into a non-standard frame for flat tracking, whilst one even ended up being fitted into a racing KART by Chuck Balsiger, .
Thanks to websites and picture credits :-
http://www.rockymountaintrials.org/brokawfumioito.html Rocky Mountain Trials Association
Colin Mackellar "Yamaha Two Strokes"
Yamaha Motor Co.
1958 Catalina Start Line courtesy of Dave Ekins
Paul Ritter Blog https://paulritterblog.wordpress.com/yl-the-history-of-the-afm-the-first-five-years/
ANd special Thanks to :-
Sonny Angel, Mark Brush, Chip Hellie, Ludy Beumer, Marty Lunde, Yamaha Motor Co.
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