Takuma Sato driving for Lotus banner in the KV Racing Technology Indycar team
Jul.15 (Geoffrey Hunton) Hello and welcome back to the Slipstream. A few weeks ago, just before the Valencia race, I mentioned that I would have a special announcement regarding the Slipstream.
Geoffrey Hunton with Takuma Sato at Watkins Glen
As you can tell by the title of this edition, I was able to sit down and interview former F1 driver Takuma Sato during the July 4th weekend Izod IndyCar race in Watkins Glen, New York.
Motor racing and Watkins Glen stretches back all the way to the immediate post-WWII era. Cameron Argetsinger organized the first race in the area and when on to lead the track’s development and operation for many years.
The area first hosted one of the first large scale street races of the post-war era and after the track was constructed, hosted the United States Grand Prix for many years. Currently the track plays host to the Izod IndyCar Series, NASCAR, and the Rolex GT series along with local SCCA and vintage festival events.
Takuma is happy racing Stateside
Special thanks go out to the entire KV Racing Technology staff as it was a very hectic weekend for everybody, but they went to great lengths to ensure that this interview took place for YallaF1.com.
Geoffrey Hunton: I am here with Takuma Sato, who has had driving tenures with Jordan, BAR Honda, and Super Aguri and he now driver for KV Racing Technology under the Lotus banner. Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview, I know your time is well tested during busy race weekends like this one.
What compelled you to be a race driver, and at what point did you decide you wanted to race in Formula One?
Takuma with his Lotus branded race suit
Takuma Sato: Wow, well it’s going to be a long story for that one. I was always very keen on cars motor racing since I was a kid. But my parents had no idea about motor racing so I didn’t have any chance at all until I was 19 years old. I saw Japanese Grand Prix in 1987 when I was 10. This was my first time seeing F1 and I was really, really shocked and I was really into Formula One since that day but I had to wait another ten years until I could get into an F1 car. I was competing in bicycles at the time quite seriously in high school and through university. Then I always knew I wanted to go racing and read in the auto racing magazines about the Suzuka Racing School. You have to be under 20 years old and by the time I read about it I was 19 so when I decided to enroll I was 20. This was to me, the very last chance so I decided to take the opportunity. I was able to get a scholarship and so I was able to go racing. To go auto racing, you really need support and the right environment, so I was lucky to go there and lucky to get the scholarship. Being in Japan it is very difficult to get to F1, so I decided to use the scholarship through to the UK and started from a junior formula and I was able to home stay with an English family and go to language school to improve my English. My target was British Formula Three and I was able to win the championship in my second year. That allowed me to enter F1.
Takuma part of the 2005 BAR Honda line-up with Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson
Who do you believe will win the World Driver’s Championship this year if you do still follow Formula One?
Takuma: I am not sure. It is quite busy and my schedule clashes with IndyCar and Formula One weekends. I am not always watching the races but of course I still follow it. McLaren is quite quick isn’t it? The pre-season favorite was Ferrari and Alosno but now probably McLaren is on top. The Red Bull is a very quick car, but a bit fragile to start with. They have now picked up their reliability so it looks like it will be McLaren and Red Bull through to the end.
What was it like to return the Lotus name to the Indy 500?
Takuma: It’s great. Everybody knows about Lotus. It is such an iconic racing brand. I am so happy to be part of it, and really proud that they (KV Racing Technology) chose me to return it to Indy. KV Racing Technology is doing a fantastic job.
Takuma driving for KV Racing Technology
Lotus and Watkins Glen have a storied history together as well. Lotus drivers such as Innes Ireland, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittalpadi, and Ronnie Peterson have all competed and won here on this track. What would it be like to put a Lotus branded car on top of the podium here at Watkins Glen?
Takuma: Wow, I would love to do that and not just at Wakins Glen. As you said, Lotus and Watkins Glen have a great history and would certainly love to follow it. The way IndyCar works is obviously different than the Formula One days. Obviously it is a very tight competition but certainly I would like to challenge.
Satoru Nakajima, a man you saw at the 1987 Japanese Grand Prix drove a Lotus Honda in that race. Have you have any chance to talk to him about that connection/association?
Takuma with Anthony Davidson at the launch of the Super Aguri F1 Team in 2007
Takuma: Sure. The Suzkua Racing School is run by Mr.Nakajima so with Honda, with Suzkua and with Mr.Nakajima is the association they try to commit into the young racing drivers at the school. I have had a few chances to talk to him and I followed his career. He was a pioneer to any Japanese F1 driver. It was so easy to pick Ayrton Senna, who was also in a yellow Lotus and the first car I remember seeing was a yellow car. To me Aytron Senna was special. I know everybody says that, but he is my hero and I followed his progress all the time on TV. So I have great memories of the Lotus association, which is fantastic.
Takuma during the 2007 Canadian GP in Montreal
If you could take us back to Montreal 2007. You are in your Super Aguri Honda and you are running up on world champion Fernando Alonso in his McLaren late in the race. What similarities do you see in Kamui Kobayashi’s move that he pulled in Valencia on Alonso’s Ferrari?
Takuma: Exactly, he did a great job and the strategy worked brilliantly. He had fresh tires in the last four laps where everybody was struggling. Suddenly he did a great job under the circumstances and is somewhat similar to what I did in Montreal. At that time I had a harder tire but it worked brilliantly. The tire differences and the strategy differences made the competition more exciting and hopefully we will have that in IndyCars. You will see the differences in the red tire and the black tire during the race. I wish Kamui a great job during the rest of the season and tomorrow I hope we have an exciting race.
Takuma testing for Toro Rosso at Jerez in 2008
Did you consider in Super GT or any other Japanese domestic racing series when Toro Rosso opted out of your services and took on Sebastian Bourdais?
Takuma: Yeah, I mean it was tough. But I wanted to continue in open wheel racing. Toro Rosso was a tremendous team when I tested with them it was beautiful and the car was quick and the engineers and mechanics were so enthusiastic and we had hoped we could put it together. I was considering racing in Japan at one stage but in my mind, IndyCars were coming right up. Compared to Formula One, IndyCars is the next best formula open wheel series. Before I go to Le Mans or Super GT, which you could say I would do later, I wanted to have a bit more challenge in a formula type car. I am happy to have a great opportunity here in IndyCar.
Did you feel that your work with Aguri Suzuki and Super Aguri set a form of precedent in regards to “national” race teams now that other teams like the all German Mercedes GP team, and the all British driver line up at McLaren?
Takuma: I think Honda and Super Aguri had an extremely good relationship. The 2009 car that Honda was to have was based on a close relationship between Honda and Super Aguri. There was an agreement on using four cars (two for Honda, two for Super Aguri) in 2009, but it didn’t happen. It was a shame that we were not able to race it. But that car should be something that Honda and Super Aguri should be proud of considering what we know about its actual performance last year.
Takuma in the cockpit at Indianapolis
What you like to see in the new IndyCar design set to be announced soon? Do you have a preference of the three designs showcased?
Takuma: I don’t have a strong preference but I would like to see something that is conventional but new. Nothing too radical though. Some of the designs were a little unrealistic. Hopefully the new car is nice to drive, very good for competition and a good successful IndyCar. IndyCar is a successful series but the current car is a bit old. As long as the car is fast, nice to drive, and looks good I don’t mind driving any car. I do not have an issue with a system similar to the KERS or current Push to Pass system in the car, as long as it is implemented safely.
Thank you very much for your time Takuma and best of luck tomorrow.
Takuma: Thank you.
Takuma was very gracious in agreeing to this interview since just a few minutes prior to sitting down, he was told that there would only be five minutes for this interview. As you can see, he agreed to spend quite a bit more time than 5 minutes. He carries himself with a great deal of experience but is very humble for a man who has achieved a great deal for him and for the image of Japanese drivers.
I was impressed at the level of professionalism from the entire PKV Racing Technology team and the sophistication of their operation. Thanks go out again to the PKV Racing Technology team and also to the staff at YallaF1.com for providing me with some questions and guidance as to how to structure the interview.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did asking Takuma these questions. Next week the Slipstream will be back with GP wrap up and preview. Take care and thanks for reading.
Editor’s Note: Our USA correspondent contributor Geoffrey Hunton’s interview with Takuma Sato is an exclusive to YallaF1.com