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Mitsuo Itoh’s name is synonymous with all things Suzuki, thanks not only to his near life-long career with the brand but also his many contributions to their successes; from winning prestigious races to nurturing the next big talents joining the Hamamatsu factory.
Full name: Mitsuo Itoh (伊藤光夫)
Nickname: Magic Mitsuo
Born: 1st January 1937
Died: 3rd July 2019
Years with Suzuki: 1959 onwards.
Fast fact: Only Japanese rider to win Isle of Man TT
Suzuki From The Start
Hailing from close to Hamamatsu, Itoh’s connection with Suzuki seemed almost destined from the beginning. He joined the team from a young age, and first went racing in 1959. Just two years later, in 1961, he entered the World Championship and made his debut at the French Grand Prix. It wasn’t an easy start, with Itoh failing start in the 125cc class and retiring from the 250cc race on the 3rd lap. However, he had well and truly been bitten by the racing bug…
Mitsuo never entered the 250cc class again and instead found his true calling in the smaller classes with Suzuki’s 125cc RT63, and even more so with the tiny but quick 50cc Suzuki RM62. After finishing 5th in the 50cc class of the World Championship for four consecutive years it was time to truly take on the ultimate challenge.
Tourist Trophy Triumph
In 1963, just a couple of years after making his racing debut, Itoh entered the Isle of Man TT as part of the World Championship. The race, which is feared as much as it is revered, is to this day to be one the hardest challenges any rider can attempt. The course spans 37.4 miles (60.1km), and was described by journalist Franz Lidz as: “38 Miles of Terror... a test of nerves and speed that may be sport's most dangerous event”
Even on Mitsuo’s little 50cc Suzuki this was to be no walk in the park, but the determined racer went all out to take the Ultra-Lightweight class victory - becoming the first, and so far the only, Japanese rider to ever achieve a TT victory! This impressive win, coupled with his infectious smile and racing style, instantly elevated Itoh to hero status in the hearts of many, not only in Japan but throughout the world.
Itoh is the first (and so far the only) Japanese rider to take victory at the Isle of Man TT
Suzuki All The Way
Following his TT success, Mitsuo Itoh continued racing in the 125cc and 50cc classes with respectable results, fittingly ending his motorbike racing career with a race win at home in the Japanese GP of 1967.
But the lure of engines was too much and he took up car racing, sticking with Suzuki all the way and debuting with the brand’s Fronte RF single seater car in 1970 at Fiji International Speedway, and winning the race. A career highlight also saw him partner British racing legend Stirling Moss in a two-seat car for a publicity race from Milan to Naples in Italy.
After Mitsuo’s retirement from the race track, he brought his vast knowledge to the Suzuki Racing Corporation in Hamamatsu and worked in the Racing Development department, as well as helping to bring on new talent such as Kevin Schwantz.
Hall Of Fame
On the 15th of December 2018, Mitsuo Itoh was inducted into the MFJ (Japanese) Motorcycle Sport Hall of Fame for his contributions to motorcycling in his home country and internationally, including his famous and historical TT win.
Speaking at the time he said: “This is a result of a brave decision by our second president Shunzo Suzuki, who had the foresight to participate in TT racing, and I am honoured and thankful that I was selected as a participant and was able to win the race.”
Mitsuo was inducted into Japan´s 1st MFJ Hall of Fame in 2018.