Sato chose 4 wheels over 2
Years before Takuma Sato climbed into a race car for the first time he was a champion racer on two wheels.
|KV Racing's Takuma Sato|
"I was so keen on motor racing when I was a boy, but you need to be in the right environment to do motor racing," said Sato, who will compete in the No. 5 Lotus entry for KV Racing Technology in this weekend's Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. "You can't simply decide to do it like football or track and field. My parents didn't have any idea about racing, so I never had any opportunity to do any racing until I was 19 years old.
"I was really crazy about motor racing, particularly after seeing Suzuka and the Japanese Grand Prix in 1987 when I was 10 years old. I just stood there. It was a big shock to me. Since then, I was a big fan of F1 and motor racing."
But following in the footsteps of Aguri Suzuki in Formula One was a foreign proposition. He eventually discovered cycling - mountain biking and track racing are popular in Japan - as a sense of freedom.
"I had a push bike when I was 10 years old," Sato said. "I just loved riding the bike; not competitively but just generally. When I was 16 years old, I found a professional cycling shop in Tokyo. It's pure racing stuff. I started with the mountain bike, which was a present from my parents when I got into high school. I joined a weekend club of students, amateur riders and semi-professionals that toured and trained and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I started road racing and track racing in high school days, and that's when I really got into the competition."
Sato progressed to win the all-Japan high school and all-university competition, and could have pointed to the Olympic Games. But his competitive desire and heart remained on another track.
"At that time I was thinking 'Is this what I wanted?' The answer I knew was 'No,' '' he said. "It was motor racing. When you're 19 years old and have never done this stuff and don't have big financial support, you're stuck. I was looking at a motor racing magazine and it was featuring the Suzuka motor racing school, and it sounded perfect to me. You had to get in before you were 20.
"Once you got in, you used the Suzuka circuit and a junior formula car. When you're good there, you have a scholarship and move up to the next level. I was 19 when I read the magazine and said, 'This is my last chance.' That's how I started.
"When I started racing, people couldn't believe it because you have to start from 4 or 5 years old. It would be nice, but I didn't have that chance. Unless you try, you never know. That's why I keep pushing. Now I have a great opportunity here in IndyCar, and it's a whole new world again."