Keiji Matsumoto, one of the biggest names on the Japanese racing scene from the seventies to the early nineties, has died at the age of 65. He had been battling illness for some time.
Although not as well known internationally as contemporaries Satoru Nakajima, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiro Hasemi, he was highly regarded not just by his compatriots but also by the many overseas drivers who raced against him in Japan.
Born on December 26th 1949, he started racing in 1969, and first really made his mark by winning the 1979 Japanese F2 Championship. He went on to finish runner-up in both 1982 and 1985 before the category was replaced by F3000. He was an F3000 race winner as late as 1990, when he took two victories and finished fourth in the championship.
He was also successful in Grand Champion, for ‘CanAm’ bodied single seaters, and was a big player on the Japanese sportscar scene. Although usually associated with Nissan he also drove Vern Schuppan’s Porsche 962 on occasion.
In 1985 he was credited with winning the FIA World Sportscar Championship Fuji 1000kms, but the race was stopped early due to heavy rain, and only team mate Hoshino actually drove their March Nissan in the race.
He rarely ventured outside Japan, but he did contest one European F2 race at Donington Park in 1981. He also competed in a works Nissan Group C car at Le Mans in both 1987 and ’88, failing to make the flag on both occasions.
Remarkably when well into his forties he was still competitive in F3000 against the likes of Eddie Irvine, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Mika Salo, latterly while driving for the Dome team.
He retired from racing at the end of the 1992 F3000 season. At his last race I was asked by a TV company to interview all the overseas drivers about him for a farewell video, and all had nothing but good things to say about a tall and quietly spoken man who always seemed to have a smile on his face.