The ex-Takazumi Katayama, World Championship-winning
1977 Yamaha YSK3 'Sankito' 350cc Racing Motorcycle
Frame no. SPE-YC/F-25
Engine no. 002
It was in early 1974 that Ferry accepted a job as workshop chief in a new motorcycle shop in Amersfoort owned by moto-cross ace Ton van Heugten, having quit his job with Yamaha following the tragic death of his friend Jarno Saarinen, for whom he was a mechanic in the 1973 Yamaha Racing Team. Besides developing a Yamaha engine for Ton's moto-cross outfit, on which he won the 1975 European Championship, Ferry set up a road racing team to contest mainly Dutch events using TZ250/350 Yamahas. While with Yamaha he had forged a close relationship with Minoru Tanaka, his boss in the works team in 1968, who had joined Yamaha Motor NV in 1970. When Tanaka heard of Ferry's plans for the Ton van Heugten Motors Racing Team he offered to help by providing spare parts and data. Tanaka had heard that Swiss engineer and sidecar racer Rudi Kurth had made a three-cylinder crankcase for a Yamaha TD3 and suggested a visit to Switzerland. It was Tanaka's idea that the TvH Motors Racing Team should built a three-cylinder 500cc solo road-racer, and this machine was first raced at Zandvoort in 1975. While working on the 500 triple it occurred to Ferry that the team could also make a 350cc version. After some quick calculations it proved to be very simple: using the standard TZ250 cylinders with 54mm bore coupled to a stroke of 50.5mm. He rang Minoru Tanaka to see if he could obtain some Yamaha TD2 crankshafts as these had a 50mm stroke dimension and were splined, enabling individual cranks to be set at an interval of 120°. Yamaha Japan still had these cranks in stock and within days a number had been delivered to Ferry's workshop in Holland.
For the 1976 season, the team used a rolling chassis similar to the one used for the 500 triple, which was still undergoing development. It was on a Saturday morning at 03:30am that the three-cylinder 350 made its first run on a road near a military complex, using the team's van's headlamps for illumination. Its first competitive outing was at a Dutch Championship meeting at Mill. The bike proved fast but was not yet as reliable as the 500, the crankshaft giving a lot of problems. Ferry suggested to Tanaka that perhaps it would be better if Hoeckle made a new crankshaft for the 350 and 500, as the German firm's cranks had proved to be very reliable in the 250/350 Yamahas. The stroke of the 350 was increased from 50 to 50.5mm, increasing the capacity from 343.3 to 346.79cc. This modification proved to be a big success and it was then that Tanaka came up with the idea of entering the 350 triple in the 1977 World Championship for riders Takazumi Katayama and Giacomo Agostini.
For the 1977 season the TvH Racing Team built a complete new 500cc with an improved engine and a frame by Nico Bakker, who also supplied frames for the 250/350 twins and the new three-cylinder 350. At the same time, Spondon Engineering in the UK were asked to make a frame for the 'Sankito' (the official name for the three-cylinder 350: San = 3, kito = cylinder). As the Sankito had by now become an official Yamaha Motor NV project, Ferry's team had pass it over to Kent Andersson (1973/74 125cc World Champion) who since his retirement from racing had been employed by Yamaha. Andersson put Trevor Tilbury in charge of the Sankito, though Ferry continued to be involved.
By now there was a choice of three different frames: standard, Nico Bakker and Spondon, which were used on different occasions, mainly by Katayama, Agostini having decided that it would be better for him to continue with the 350 twin. The latter was lighter than the 350/3, which never got below 120kg, although it produced almost 15bhp more than the 1977 twin. By now in his fourth Grand Prix season, Katayama concentrated his efforts on the Sankito for 1977, dominating the 350 class with wins in France, West Germany, Yugoslavia, Sweden and Finland to end the year as World Champion with 95 points, 39 more than 2nd placed Tom Herron.
The factory having pulled the plug on Yamaha Motor NV's 'freelance' race plans, the Sankito continued as a more or less private project for the 1978 season. Over the winter work began on separate cylinders instead of the single block used so far. The frame was modified while other changes included Lectron carburettors and a revised exhaust layout. In this form the Sankito was tested at an international event in Hilvarenbeek, Holland where many things went wrong. It was then shipped to Venezuela for the GP but was unsuccessful again.
After this event the Sankito project was abandoned and all the machines and parts were boxed up and sent to Queens University in Belfast. Several years later Ray McCullough put one of the engines in a Seeley frame and raced the Sankito in Ireland. This machine currently stands in the lobby of the University. Some 10 years ago Ray McCullough, knowing that Ferry had been involved in the three-cylinder project from the beginning, gave him some parts: a complete set of crankcases, a Hoeckle crankshaft, cylinders and a cylinder head.
Later Ferry got talking with Ray and asked if he perhaps still had some parts left. Not so long after the visit Ray sent Ferry a frame, front fork and exhaust. When checked, the frame turned out to be the original Spondon item and the exhaust pipes the original 1977 set. It was then that Ferry decided to rebuild the 75%-complete Sankito, receiving help from Kent Andersson and the Yamaha factory who provided many missing original parts. All other missing parts were made by the Yamaha Classic Racing Team and the rebuilt Sankito had its first outing during the Centennial Classic TT in 1998. In Katayama's absence the machine was ridden by Kent Andersson as a tribute to Minoru Tanaka who had died in 1990. Since then it has also been ridden by Ray McCullough, Pentti Korhonen and Tony Smith. Unique in Yamaha's racing history, the Sankito is offered with assorted photographs and a specification sheet.
- Since going to press we have been advised by Spondon Engineering that frame number 'SPE-YC/F-25' was supplied new in 1979 to Ernie Coates in Ireland as part of a rolling chassis to take a standard Yamaha TZ250/250 twin-cylinder engine. Thus it would be more accurate to describe this motorcycle as a replica of the ex-Takazumi Katayama, World Championship-winning machine, albeit one that incorporates some elements of the original.