INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato’s rise to Indianapolis Motor Speedway history did not come without significant personal sacrifice.
Sato’s victory in Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge made him just the 20th driver to win the Indy 500 two or more times in their career. It was Sato’s second. He also won the “500” in 2017 with Andretti Autosport.
On Sunday, Sato won the Indy 500 driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda.
Making it to the top of the IMS scoring pylon and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has come with a great deal of sacrifice for the driver from Tokyo.
His family lives in Europe. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sato has been in the United States since February and has not seen his family in person in more than five months.
Thanks to modern technology, including the NTT INDYCAR Mobile App, the Satos are able to remain connected, even if they aren’t together.
“Today, we connect through FaceTime and with the kids on iPad,” Sato said on the day following his second Indy 500 victory. “If we are busy, it might be once every three days. We are communicating and texting and updating each other. We just aren’t physically together.
“I’m surprised my son and daughter are growing up so quickly, you can see them getting taller. I look forward to seeing them in the offseason. I’m happy they are keeping healthy and strong as well.”
Sato’s family is able to keep up with every race on the schedule through the NTT INDYCAR Mobile App and other technology. Also, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races are televised in the United Kingdom, so the Sato family had a variety of ways of following and charting his path to “500” history.
“They were fortunate enough with the technology we have, they could follow along with the race with multiple monitors and time charts, they were able to enjoy the race,” Sato said. “They were very happy. After the race, they sent me a video clip of them celebrating all over the place. They are happy.
“Obviously, I have sacrificed family because of the physical distance. But I think there are a lot of people who have sacrificed more with COVID-19. For me, even though we physically are not in the same place, we are OK.”
Sato’s mother, however, remains in Japan. Because of the time difference, she had to get up at 2:30 a.m. because the race started at 3 a.m. in Tokyo.
“She watched the entire race live until 7 a.m.,” Sato said. “She was in tears. I want to give a big thank you to my Mom.”
Although Sato’s real family aren’t in the United States and he won’t see them until the offseason, the popular driver has his “INDYCAR family” in the United States. He lives with his manager, Steve Fusek and his wife Sue in Indianapolis.
Fusek joked Monday morning that Sato’s rent is about to increase because he has won the Indianapolis 500 twice.
“I’m happy for my American family,” Sato said.
Sato also has a close personal relationship with all three owners at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, especially team co-owner Mike Lanigan and engineer Eddie Jones.
According to Sato, Lanigan made a personal financial commitment to bring Sato back to the team after he left following the 2012 season. He spent four seasons with AJ Foyt Racing and the 2017 season with Andretti Autosport when they won the Indy 500 together.
“Every single time, Bobby and Mike would ask, ‘When are you coming back?’” Sato recalled. “It’s not a joke, Mike Lanigan made an absolute commitment. That is why I’m so grateful and so thankful to him.”
As for Jones, Sato has a deep respect for the engineer that has provided him with fast Hondas. The two work well together and at 43, Sato is getting better with age.
“It’s special,” Sato said. “I am so fortunate to work with so many great engineers. Eddie Jones was a race car driver. He knows about Pocono, he knows about Nurburgring back in the days. He is a designer, car builder as well as a race car driver. He knows the business, about what you need. He is so grateful.
“I simply love him, and we work so closely. It’s a magical chemistry feeling that we get along really great since Day One.”
Every team Sato has been part of has developed a deep respect for the likable Japanese driver. That’s because Sato respects his “racing family” so deeply.
In a sense, they help fill the personal void that comes with being physically separated from his wife and daughter, who remain an ocean away.
“Winning the 500 is so special,” Sato said. “Everything has to be perfect and the team provided that. The team gets all the credit; I was just a part of it.
“Sharing the milk and the joy with the boys, the sweat, crying, tears and everything. That moment was not different from the 26 boys (at Andretti) to the 30 boys (at RLL). If anything was different, I gave something back to the owners from 2012.
“The first achievement was significant. The second, I know this feeling, but never get tired. Winning the Indy 500 was so special. I had a mixture of feeling and very emotional.”
The next time Sato is reunited with his family he can show them his latest piece of jewelry, his second Indianapolis 500 Winner’s Ring made by Jostens.