Takuma Sato

Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio entry list || Race weekend set-up

Takuma Sato recalls sitting next to his father, who was watching the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on TV at home in Tokyo.

“The ‘500’ in Japan was broadcast even before Formula One so I remember when I was young the car was going at incredible speed lap after lap,” he said. “That was my first memory and impression – how fast the cars were going around the track. It got me straight away.”

Attending with his father the first Formula One race at the Suzuka Circuit in 1987 enhanced the 10-year-old’s visual experience and cemented an ambition.

“I stood the whole time because it was so exciting,” Sato added. “I became a huge motor racing fan. Since then my target was in Europe and Formula One.”

Both the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One have crossed Sato’s career path, and this weekend the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will mark his 100th Indy car start. Sato, in his third Verizon IndyCar Series season with AJ Foyt Racing, will drive the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda in the 90-lap race on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (1:30 p.m. ET Aug. 2 on CNBC).

Sato, the only Japanese driver competing full time in the series, also is the first Japanese driver to score an Indy car victory (2013 at Long Beach, which was the first win for the Foyt team since 2002). This season, his sixth in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Sato has three top-10 finishes in the 13 races, punctuated by a drive from 15th on the starting grid to second at Belle Isle.

Starting late, catching up quickly

Sato’s pursuit of a motorsports career didn’t begin in earnest until nearly a decade after attending the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka won by Gerhard Berger in a Ferrari.

In 1996, he started karting locally while attending university and the next year he won the Kanto region championship. He then applied to the Suzuka Circuit Racing School, which he read about in an auto racing magazine, and won a scholarship for the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship. He chose, however, to move to Europe to pursue his primary goal.

Sato won the British Formula 3 title in 2001 with Carlin, which this season has two entries in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and made the leap to Formula One in 2002 with DHL Jordan Honda.

He scored a podium finish at the 2004 USGP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the way to finishing eighth in the championship for BAR Honda. From 2006-08, he drove for Super Aguri F1 Team, but a funding setback resulted in the team disbanding and Sato without a ride.

In May 2009, the next page of his career was about to unfold when he attended Indianapolis 500 time trials.

“That was very impressive to see the cars,” he said, comparing the in-person experience to watching on TV years earlier.

Moving to the States

Sato’s F1 career starts totaled 90.

“In 2010, Jimmy (Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology) gave me a great opportunity and since then I’ve been part of the IndyCar Series,” he said. “And now (the number of starts has) overtaken my Formula One career.

“(The) Formula One (car) is nicer, more power, more downforce, lighter, more sophisticated. Here is more fun with the racing. What I like here is you have an opportunity to win the race even if you’re a small one-car team. There is so much on-track activity. Different racetracks make this so exciting.”

The move to Indy car racing wasn’t a steppingstone, he asserts, to return to Europe.

“Once I decided (to come to the Verizon IndyCar Series), I wanted to do everything I could to be successful, and that’s not halfway. It’s full commitment,” he said. “I saw it as it could either be one year or a long career. Either way, I didn’t think it would be just a couple of years and then go, and today I’m on the longer side.

“I really appreciate that now it’s my third season with A.J.’s team. It’s exciting to go to the 100th race.

“My dream is still to win the Indy 500 and win the championship. I was close to the top of the cake at the ‘500’ in 2012. So many occasions we were fast and I’m motivated as ever. I’m not the teenager or in my early 20s where you have a 10-year career, but I feel I’m still physically as good as ever and mentally prepared to race and continue. I’m certainly not going to go to 300, though.”