Catalina Grand Prix 1958
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 find.
In February 1958, well before the race, the Asama Highlands race winning Yamaha YD-A was exported to the US for testing and preparation ahead of the Catalina GP. The bike was soon converted to a more conventional "Westernised" motocross layout, with high bars, high pipes with heat sheilds, smaller fuel tank (taken from the 125 YA racer) and high footpegs. It has been suggested that Fumio Ito tested the machine before being shipped to the US, hence the #33 on the prototype machine, but this has not been confirmed to date.
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.
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 teh frame tube. This bike appears to be #10 in the Catalina GP as ridden by Jerry Close.
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 (*cite Jack Coulson) whilst at Catalina Island.
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
#7 Earl Wilson
#9 Doug Yearkes
#10 Jerry Close
#21 Ray Presho
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
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 Californorian 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 return to Japan, but the bikes stay in the US
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.
Yamaha International Industries, USA retained the bikes which were held at Martys Motors and ran them in several road races, such as Dodge City, where Roxy Rockwood, shown below, won his race and later on September 14th '58 finished 3rd at Riverside Raceway CA,
Note the hand written note "Yamaha PQ Racer" on the picture below; PQ was actually the engine number prefix on this 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.
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 2 machines were left with Sonny Angel Motorcycles 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.
Thanks to websites and picture credits :-
Rocky Mountain Trials Association
Colin Mackellar "Yamaha Two Strokes"
Yamaha Motor Co.
1958 Catalina Start Line courtesy of Dave Ekins
Paul Ritter Blog
Thanks to :-
Sonny Angel, Mark Brush, Chip Hellie, Ludy Beumer, Marty Lunde, Yamaha Motor Co.