Where EAST meets the Northwest
SPEEDY SATO. Takuma Sato of Japan celebrates winning the Indianapolis 500
auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, on May 28,
2017. Beyond redemption, the victory held deep personal meaning for Sato since
the Indy 500 inspired him to pursue racing as a career. (AP Photo/Darron
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #12 (June 19, 2017), pages 1 & 7.
Takuma Sato’s dream comes true at the Indy 500
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
Asian athletes have made inroads into many different professional American
sports, but open-wheel racing has not been one of them. That is, not until
Japanese driver Takuma Sato won the Indy 500, the quintessentially American
racing event. The former Formula One driver created a thrilling finish, winning
just his second IndyCar race on a track he’s had a special connection with for a
Sato has made Asian-American athletic history before, when he became the
first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race at the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix at
Long Beach. Though less exciting than Sato’s Indy 500 victory, Long Beach showed
his dominance, as Sato led 50 of the race’s 80 laps. In victory, Sato beat Dario
Franchitti, the 2009 Long Beach winner, who had stopped Sato from winning the
Indy 500 in 2012.
In that Indy 500, Sato sat behind only Franchitti and Scott Dixon with two
laps remaining. Franchitti passed Dixon, and Sato followed, so just one driver
stood between him and victory at the biggest open-wheel race in America. On the
first turn of the race’s final lap, Sato tried to pass Franchitti but spun into
the wall, finishing in 17th place.
Beyond redemption, Sato’s 2017 win held deep personal meaning for him, since
the Indy 500 inspired him to pursue racing as a career. At age seven, Sato
watched his first race on television, the Indy 500, and he was amazed at the
speed of the drivers. "After that, I was hooked on racing," Sato said. "I wanted
to be a driver. I was going to be a driver."
The Tokyo native has worked a long time to get to the winner’s circle. Sato
began pursuing his dream in 1996, when he went from cyclist to kart driver. The
following year, he won a scholarship to Honda’s prestigious Suzuka Racing
School. Sato could have been their driver in the 1998 All-Japan Formula 3
Championship, but he knew his path to Formula One would have to begin in Europe
In Europe, Sato raced in the British Formula 3 series, taking just three
years to rise to circuit champion, in 2001. The following year, he raced in his
first Formula One event, the Jordan Grand Prix. He later placed fifth at the
Japanese Grand Prix, earning his first points in the Formula One World
Sato became a full-time Formula One driver in 2004, making his mark
immediately. Still with the British American Racing team, he finished 10 times
in the top ten and five times in the top five, including a third-place finish at
the United States Grand Prix. The track for this race was the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway — the same one on which the Indy 500 is run.
That would be his best Formula One finish ever and just the second time a
Japanese driver had reached the Formula One podium. The first, Aguri Suzuki,
took third at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, but never realized his promise.
Sato, by contrast, went on to take eighth place in the 2004 Formula One
championship, the best finish ever by a Japanese driver.
2004 proved to be Sato’s best year in that circuit, however. He never again
ranked higher than 16th or finished a race in the top five, amassing only six
more top-ten finishes in the next four seasons. In 2006, Sato signed with Aguri
Suzuki’s Super Aguri team, which fell apart in 2008, leaving Sato without a
After a year layoff, Sato signed with the KV Racing Technology IndyCar team,
finishing the 2010 season in 21st place on the strength of a single top-ten
finish at Edmonton. Sato continued to rise in his new circuit, changing teams in
2012 and again to A.J. Foyt in 2013, when he secured that first victory at Long
Before the 2017 season, Sato consistently placed in the top 20 in the
championship rankings, collecting a handful of top-ten and one or two top-five
finishes each year. This season, Sato joined Andretti Autosport, a portentous
sign, since the team had won four Indy 500 races overall, including two in the
previous three seasons.
Sato remarked on this record after signing with Andretti: "The team has
proven year after year that they are ultra-competitive on all types of circuits.
Particularly the speed that the team has shown in recent years at the Indy 500
has been incredible."
The move paid immediate dividends, as Sato placed fifth in his first race and
ninth in his third race. At Indianapolis, he qualified fourth, his best starting
position of the season and the best in his eight previous tries at the Indy 500.
On the day of the race, he later said, "It was the first time in my career at
Indy when I felt like I could win it. When, in my head, I knew I should
As the race progressed, Sato remained at the front of the pack, waiting for
his moment to strike. With 22 laps to go, he found it.
He flew around Helio Castroneves and Ed Jones to set himself up among the top
three. Ten laps later, both Castroneves and Sato passed race leader Max Chilton,
and the two battled for first throughout the race’s final laps before Sato flew
ahead for good, holding off Castroneves until the finish. "I know Helio is
always going to charge," Sato said. "But he’s just such a gentleman and such a
After Sato emerged victorious, team owner Michael Andretti said, "We had the
right guy … He drove a superb race." Andretti fielded six cars at this year’s
Indy 500, and Sato seemed lost in the shuffle. But he exceeded all expectations
and, at 40 years old, may have finally found the right combination to fulfill
his childhood dreams.
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