LEXINGTON, Ohio July 30, 2015–It seems like only yesterday that Takuma Sato, the personable driver who hails from Tokyo, visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during May in 2009 and watched Indy cars thunder through Turn 1 without lifting, leaving him awestruck but intrigued.
“I was shocked!” Sato recalled. “It was just amazing to see the cars screaming, coming at you at 225mph into Turn 1, and the car was sliding and you can see the driver was correcting in the cockpit. At first I thought I couldn’t do it. (laughs) That was very impressive.”
A year later he became a rookie in the IndyCar Series after competing in Formula 1 where he racked up 23 Top-10s including six Top-5 finishes in 90 races. His best finish was third at Indy.
For a youngster whose only exposure to racing was attending the first Formula 1 race in Suzuka in 1987, Takuma Sato is a rare driver who has had two careers at the top level in open wheel racing: Formula 1 and IndyCar. He is one of only two current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, the other being Juan Pablo Montoya, who have competed in Formula 1 for more than two years. Interestingly, Montoya went to F-1 after racing Indy cars while Sato came to the IndyCar Series after a six year career in F-1. With Sato’s 100th IndyCar start at Mid-Ohio set to take place this weekend, Japan’s most successful racing driver reaches a noteworthy milestone in his second career as an IndyCar driver. In his first 99 races, he has amassed one victory, five poles, five podiums, 10 Top-5s and 25 Top-10s.
Following is a short Q&A with him.
What does this 100th race signify to you? “Getting older! No, really I just appreciate many things, especially the people who helped me to get where I am today. It is wonderful to be able to keep doing what you want, so the 100th race will be a great memory but it’s just a milestone so I will keep on going!
In 2010, did you envision still being here in five years? “Yes because although I wasn’t the youngest, I was young enough to make it, and I believe I still am! Obviously motor-racing is a complicated sport and you need to be in the right environment. It is extremely difficult to get a fair chance, so I really feel lucky and appreciate everyone’s support as I am still driving competitively.”
To what do you attribute your success in the IndyCar Series? “Meeting the right person and being in the right place at the right time. Well, IndyCar is very fair from just the pure racing point of view. People can shine here if you’ve got the right pieces of the puzzle which is not easy to get but not impossible either. Strongly believing in yourself combined with the support of good people can make it happen.”
What is your favorite part about being in the IndyCar Series? “The exciting racing! There is so much action on track. You have great chances to win the race compared to the other top category in the world where your chances could be extremely limited.”
What is the most challenging part about the IndyCar Series? “You really need to be an all-rounder because of the variety of tracks we race on: road courses, street courses, short ovals, and super-speedways. It is a big challenge to adapt quickly your driving style for each quite different environment which is very interesting and lots of fun. I’m enjoying it.”
Thinking back to when you started, what surprised you the most? “Racing side-by-side at over 220mph! That happens only in IndyCar and it is quite an experience. Also, although you don’t really want to experience it but when you lose control at the Speedway, hit the wall and can walk away! It happens so quickly and you’re traveling backwards–again at over 200mph sometimes–and you could record over 100Gs-impact but walk away unhurt! That was very impressive. I’m very grateful for the safety improvements, but when you just think about it, it is an incredible thing!”
What is the greatest lesson you learned? “Never give up so your dream can come true. Keeping fit and staying in good health is also fundamental, and you must have that so you can reach that milestone 100th race–and work on the next 100!”
What others are saying…
A.J. Foyt, Owner, ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing: “I’m glad to see him get to his 100th race, and have him in my 14 car when he does it. He is a hustler, and he always runs hard. He’s a real gentlemen, but a hard charger on the track. He reminds me of Kenny Brack in some ways and I think together we’ve made a good team. He’s helped us and I think we’ve helped him.” Foyt, who made 369 starts in an Indy car added with a laugh, “He still has a long way to go to catch up to me!” [100th start: Won – Springfield, IL 1965]
Larry Foyt, President, ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing: “It seems like yesterday Taku joined the IndyCar Series from F-1. I remember how quick he was right out of the box and I knew then he was a special driver. I’ve enjoyed working with him, and to be a part of his first win in IndyCar is truly memorable. Congrats on your 100th Taku! I’m looking forward to another memorable milestone together!”
Art St. Cyr, President, Honda Performance Development: “Takuma has been a part of the Honda Racing family from the start of his career in Japan, through his successful, championship-winning Formula 3 efforts and many years in Formula One. As part of our IndyCar Series program for the past five seasons, he has always been thrilling to watch, no more so than when he won the Grand Prix of Long Beach for Honda and A.J. Foyt Racing in 2013. Congratulations, ‘Taku’, on your 100th Indy car start. All of us at Honda look forward to more excitement and victories in the races ahead.”
Teammate Jack Hawksworth: “100 is a great number to hit and I’m sure he has many more races left in him! I hope we can celebrate Taku’s milestone with a good finish for both of the ABC Supply cars. We found a pretty good direction with the cars at Barber and Indy R/C so we are pretty optimistic about the opportunity to have a strong weekend.”
Tony Kanaan: “It sure doesn’t look like Taku has been in IndyCar for 100 starts. He spent a good time in F1 and it seems like yesterday when he showed up at the IndyCar paddock and started mixing it up with the old guys like me. During our stint as teammates at KV Racing I was always amazed with his work ethic and also the ability to put a good lap together. Qualifying was one of his strengths and I was always playing catch up trying to match his lap times.” [100th start: 2nd – Pikes Peak, CO, 2002]
Will Power: “Takuma is someone who I looked up to when I was in the junior formulas. I remember before I went overseas to race British Formula 3, I would watch his onboard videos around Macau which was really spectacular. And, when I was overseas he was in Formula One and he was always phenomenal to watch. I thought it was pretty cool when he chose to come over and race in IndyCar and it’s been fun to get to compete against him. I admire his motto “no attack, no chance” and it reigns true on the track. He definitely gives it a 100% all of the time and attacks and he only thinks about one thing all of the time which is winning. I consider Takuma a friend and I think it’s fantastic that he has 90 starts in Formula One and will have 100 now in IndyCar.” [100th start: 2nd – Sonoma, CA, 2012]
Scott Dixon: “For someone to have done 90 F1 starts and then reached 100 starts in IndyCar is a hell of an accomplishment. I’ve also admired the way he drives. He’s made for some thrilling qualifying sessions and many races. I’ve been shocked at how he’s been able to wheel that car around and a car that’s not always that competitive. He has an amazing knack of being able to get more than everything out of the car in quali. My all-time favorite was his speech when he nearly won the 500. When Taku and Dario went wheel to wheel! Loved the quote “I may be small, but I needed a little more room!!” [100th start: 4th – Sonoma, CA, 2006]
Helio Castroneves: “Takuma is a fast driver! I remember hearing about him in the time from British F3 when he won the championship; I said this guy will be different from the other Japanese drivers. Today I say for sure, he is special, mainly in the wet–he is “D” man . Congrats on the 100th race, am looking forward to many more battles on the track!” [100th start: 2nd – Indianapolis, 2003]