Takuma Sato with longtime fans

Yusuke and Aya Inoue met through a mutual acquaintance at the Formula One race in Shanghai in 2004, remained in contact though half a world apart, fell in love, were married and began rearing a family.

Most of that had been unbeknownst to Takuma Sato – the mutual acquaintance through his racing.

The history of this atypical boy-meets-girl story: Meet Yusuke, a motorsports fan since childhood in Japan who began following Sato in earnest when he made his 2002 F1 debut with the Honda-powered Jordan team. Meet Aya, similarly an F1 follower but more so a Sato patriot who traveled to a number of events in Southeast Asia with friends from their Tokyo home.

“I knew Takuma Sato as a great Japanese driver and when he made his Formula One debut in 2002 I became a big fan of him and watched on TV,” Yusuke says. “In 2004, I went to Indianapolis for the U.S. Grand Prix and I watched his podium and became a bigger fan.”

Yusuke, an engineer living and working in Chicago, traveled to China with no expectations other than to watch a great race and potential Sato podium finish.

“Since I saw Takuma’s podium finish at IMS, I wanted to attend one more Formula One race,” he says. “However, Japanese GP tickets were sold out so I decided to go to the Chinese GP because it is near to Japan. So if Takuma didn’t get the podium at USGP I don’t go to one more race and I don’t meet Aya at Shanghai. I’m very appreciative of Takuma getting the podium in Indianapolis.”

Adds Aya: “I went there with my friends and he went there and met and we just exchanged email addresses and emailed a couple of times.”

The long-distance relationship blossomed through the Internet.

“We only dated three or four times in person,” Aya says, laughing. “We got married in 2006 and I came to Chicago in the beginning of 2007.”

After he left F1, their support for Sato was rekindled in 2010 when he joined the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“When he debuted in IndyCar in 2010 I said, ‘Yes!’ ’’ Yusuke says.

Given their proximity to Midwest events during the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, the family – which now includes Misaki and Takumi (yes, named in honor of the driver) – has attended several races. Most recently, they dined with Sato last week before the race at Iowa Speedway.

Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing, doesn’t take credit as a matchmaker – unwittingly or otherwise.

“I’ve seen a lot of couple every year at the fan club meeting who become friends and after that seeing them together,” he says. “They are such loyal fans. It’s great to see them and share a good time together.”