Takuma Sato Prepares for the Indy 500

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In-depth article featuring interview with Takuma Sato as he gears up for the biggest race of his career.

Japanese rookie Takuma Sato is bracing himself for the biggest race of his career at the Indy 500 later this month. Despite years of Formula One and competing at some of the most high profile races like the famed Monaco GP and of course his home race at Suzuka for the Japanese GP, Taku knows that maybe nothing has quite prepared him for the magnitude of the Indy 500.

“This month is going to be MEGA,” he said from his temporary home in Indianapolis. “I went to bump day last year just to get a feel of how Indy might look, so I have a small idea, but of course race day is something else!”

“The most emotional and important races for me up until now have been in Suzuka,” he explained. “In front of my great fans there it is always something special, but the numbers of fans is nothing like the Indy 500. I can't really imagine what it will be like stepping out to the grid. It must be like being watched by the whole world!”

However, Taku hopes that he is not fazed by all the attention and that his experience will help him to cope with the pressure. “You can imagine the pressure of being the only Japanese driver on the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix,” he explained in his perfect English language. “The massive expectation of a whole country is on you and you just have to get on with the job. So I think I can manage the Indy 500 nerves quite well. Anyway, we will soon see!”

Taku has now completed five races in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar series with mixed results. Although always showing good speed, his races have not all gone as he would have liked. “It's been quite a tough start to the year with so much to learn and a whole new world to try to understand. Being a rookie in IndyCar is not at all easy. The cars are quite difficult to drive fast, it needs a new driving style from me, and the field is very competitive,” he explained. “But I am getting more comfortable every time I jump in the car, so we will see some good results soon I’m sure.”

The last race at Kansas Speedway was something of a revelation not only for Taku, but also for the watching IndyCar experts. With no oval experience before in his career, Taku hit the ground running in the race, overtaking vastly more experienced rivals inside and out to move steadily up through the field. Drawing praise from the entire IndyCar paddock, Taku made an immediate impression on oval racing and has now been tipped by many as a future oval star. Had he not been taken out late in the race, he looked on for a top 5 finish - an outstanding feat for a complete oval rookie! “That was fun!” he exclaimed afterward. “I have always loved high speed corners and it seems that oval racing might suit my style quite well!” This small but valuable experience bodes well for the Indy 500.

Since embarking on his rookie year in IndyCar, Taku has had plenty of changes to contend with, not least leaving his young family temporarily alone back home in Monaco. “That's tough, leaving the family; my kids are very young and of course I miss them so much. But thanks to technology, we are able to talk to each other through the web cam, but to not actually see them for weeks and months, it’s very tough.”

While researching where to settle in the U.S., Taku has been a house guest at a friend’s place in Indianapolis. “I’m very lucky that I have three groups of friends here in Indy. Two of them I met when we came here for F1 and the third used to run a Champ car team, so he knows the game very well.” “So it's great to have a ready-made social network here. It would be terrible if I was stuck in some hotel on my own! I have friends around already so we can relax and eat together and I can talk to people who understand racing and what I am going through as a rookie.” And eating is something that Taku loves to do. In fact, his two main hobbies are cited as being cycling and food! “Yes I love it! Steak houses, pork chops, actually everything will do as long as it's healthy and good quality. There's plenty to choose from over here!”

Without any domestic distractions, Taku has been able to focus himself completely on integrating with his KV Racing Technology team and learning the all-important ropes of the IndyCar world. “My engineer is great and a real thinker. He is doing a good job of helping me to get the best out of these cars. They need quite a different driving philosophy to F1, but I am learning every time I drive them.”

With Taku’s first oval race now behind him, how did he feel that his debut went? “Well very interesting really. At first the speed needs time to get used to, but when I did, it was a lot of fun. You need to keep the momentum up otherwise you go backwards very quickly.” In addition to respected team boss Jimmy Vasser on the pitwall, Taku had help at Kansas Speedway in the form of experienced IndyCar fellow countryman Roger Yasukawa. “Roger was absolutely perfect as my spotter,” Taku enthused. “Having Jimmy and Roger on the team helping me along made a big difference for me and gave a lot of confidence during the race. Roger is also spotting for me at the 500, so we are starting to build up a good level of trust and confidence in each other.”

Taku continued, “Certainly before I get on the Indy track, I will be trying it out on my iRacing simulator at home. Of course it will be different when I first jump in the car there, but the iRacing will give me a good idea of the feel of the track and the momentum I will need in the real thing.”

“Many people think that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a simple track, just four 90-degree left-hand turns,” Sato said. “But at speeds up to 370 kph (230 mph), each turn is unique, with many subtle differences that make them completely different.”

Even a small mistake at those speeds can prove very expensive, and with the iRacing.com Motorsports Simulation service, Sato had the chance to become familiar with the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its four challenging almost flat 90-degree sweeping corners before he ever slid into the cockpit of his real race car.

“Like many of the other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers, I use iRacing.com to get to know these tracks better, before I even get out on the actual track,” Sato said. “I am very impressed with the realism of the iRacing.com online racing simulation. Plus it’s a lot of fun at the same time!”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of more than 40 race tracks in the U.S. and around the world that are represented in the iRacing.com internet-based motorsport simulation service. The service is inexpensive and intended to let motorsport fans and racing games enthusiasts from all around the world practice and, if they wish, compete against friends and other fans in organized races. The tracks and cars in the service are modeled so accurately that a professional racing driver can use them to learn a track he or she has never seen before.

iRacing.com uses survey-quality laser-scanning to capture data, so the finished track is accurate to within two millimeters. Every tiny bump or change in road camber is accurately represented in the virtual version of the track.

Other Indy 500 drivers who are iRacing.com members include Justin Wilson, Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Vitor Miera, Dan Weldon, Tomas Scheckter, Danica Patrick, Mike Conway, Rafael Matos, A.J. Foyt IV and Sato’s fellow IZOD IndyCar Series rookie Simona de Silvestro.

Go to http://www.iracing.com/jp/ for the Japanese version of the site.

Before embarking on his first 500, Taku had to jet to Tokyo for the official Honda launch of the Indy Japan 300 to be held in September at Motegi. How did that event go for him? “The Motegi race launch gave me a good idea of the level of media interest in IndyCar in Japan,” he commented. “It will be my first race in Japan since Suzuka 2007, so for everyone back home it's a really big deal for me to be there. The level of support and enthusiasm I have from Japan is really great and I’m sure that Honda will make it a great event to be a part of, I can’t wait.”

“I also did some PR for Lotus cars and visited their main Tokyo showroom and everyone there is also very excited to be a part of this new IndyCar project. It seems that Honda and Lotus brands fit very well together with no conflicts since they are in different parts of the car market, so working with them both is a really good situation for me.”

Last weekend Taku qualified for the race after a difficult and challenging bump day, but that’s another story...He lines up 31st for the 500 mile race and cant wait to get started.

“So, now I am ready for the Indy 500 to start. I know it's going to be a really busy race weekend, but it's going to be an amazing time. I look forward to seeing some of my fans who are making the trip over from Japan just to be there. I always appreciate my fans and hope I can give them and all my personal sponsors something great to cheer about.”

To stay current on Takuma Sato's Izod IndyCar Series racing, visit: http://www.TakumaSato.com

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Lindy Neubauer
Interush, Inc.
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