(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)
Just a week after the Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated in the United States, Honda Japan honored its drivers, including 2017 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil winner Takuma Sato, at the Honda Racing THANKS DAY on Sunday at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
More than 20,000 fans came for the daylong event to the facility that hosted Indy car racing from 1999 to 2011.
Front and center for the day was the Borg-Warner Trophy as it continues its first trip outside of the United States. Sato is the only driver from Japan whose face is on that trophy after he won the 101st Indianapolis 500 in a thrilling finish May 28.
According to Borg-Warner representative Steve Shunck, from the time the trophy was assembled at 6:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. local time when the event ended, a constant stream of fans were taking photos and asking about the trophy. The viewing area behind the ropes was three to four people deep and 25 wide, with the crowd swelling to larger proportions during an early-afternoon ceremony with Sato and Scott Gallett, BorgWarner Inc. vice president of marketing.
Because this is the first time the iconic Indianapolis 500 winner’s trophy has left the United States, there were questions from those who had never seen it, such as, “Is it real?” “How does it go from place to place?” “Does Takuma get to keep it?”
“We were so happy getting the first Honda driver's face on the Borg-Warner Trophy,” said Michiro Asaka of Honda, the man who brought the engine manufacturer into Indy car racing in 1994. “There are now so many great Honda drivers represented over the years.
“I am very proud of our success in racing and at Indianapolis. It was not always easy, but we worked very hard to reach our goals. We are very honored the trophy came to Japan. It is historic, and all the fans and media can't believe they get to see it with their own eyes today. I have seen it many times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but I never, never thought I'd see it in Japan and at Twin Ring Motegi.
“This is a special, special day for all of us to share and remember.”
Sato took some demonstration laps on the track in his Honda that won the Indianapolis 500 (watch below). He spoke to the massive crowd and said: “It is an honor to bring my winning Indianapolis 500 car to Japan. The Borg-Warner Trophy has traveled outside the United States for the first time ever to visit us in Japan. Today is a special day that I hope we can all share together."
Sato was the centerpiece competitor of the 30 or so Honda racers from throughout the world that also included former Formula One driver Jenson Button, reigning MotoGP champion Marc Marquez and longtime MotoGP standout Dani Pedrosa.
Button made it a point to view the trophy up close so he could see the three likenesses on the trophy belonging to friend Dario Franchitti for his Indy 500 victories.
“That is one amazing trophy,” Button said. “There are so many of my friends’ faces on it and so many Formula One drivers who won at Indy, too. Neat to see Dario and his three silver faces, and look at Takuma – what a proud smile.”
Marquez called it a trophy “worth winning.”
“That is one big trophy,” Marquez said. “So cool. I like the history it represents at a great track, Indianapolis. It is nice to see Takuma with all the other winners.”
Said Pedrosa, who won the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in 2010 and 2012: “Wow, I like that trophy. I wish I won that for winning my races racing at Indianapolis.”
The main event came with “official unveil” of the trophy in mid-afternoon, with Gallett and Sato.
"It was my first time at the Honda Racing THANKS DAY,” Gallett said. “To see all the Honda motorsports drivers, cars, motorcycles and fans in one place at the same time makes it truly unique.
“Everywhere the Borg-Warner Trophy goes, it attracts attention. The fans at the event brought this to a new higher level. They gathered to see the trophy in person non-stop all day long, taking pictures and just staying to be in the presence of the iconic trophy on its first trip to Japan.
“Takuma Sato thanked BorgWarner and Honda repeatedly throughout the day, and we could see the true joy on his face. BorgWarner was proud to help make the day more special for Takuma Sato and Honda. It was a very historical event."
On a day when Honda honored its big names in international racing, the driver with the greatest accomplishment was Sato.
“I have been very fortunate to spend so many years with Honda, and to win the Indianapolis 500 with them has been a dream,” Sato said. “I love the Indianapolis 500 and the Borg-Warner Trophy, and to share my win and the trophy here in Japan has been something I will never forget!”
The Borg-Warner Trophy continues its first trip outside the United States for another week. Up next are stops at a BorgWarner plant in Nabari, an NSK Warner plant in Fukuroi, a function at Honda World Headquarters in Tokyo and at two Sato events in Tokyo before the trophy heads back to Indianapolis on Dec. 12.