Rookie Sato visits site of US Grand Prix

LATE-BLOOMING F1 ROOKIE SATO IMPRESSED BY VISIT TO INDIANAPOLIS Shigeaki Hattori was one of nine rookies to drive in his first Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Nine days later, his former pupil, Takuma Sato, took his first trip around a majority of...

LATE-BLOOMING F1 ROOKIE SATO IMPRESSED BY VISIT TO INDIANAPOLIS

Shigeaki Hattori was one of nine rookies to drive in his first Indianapolis 500 on May 26. Nine days later, his former pupil, Takuma Sato, took his first trip around a majority of the Formula One circuit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for his initial SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29.

Sato is a rookie driver for the DHL Jordan-Honda team behind No. 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella. Sato drove from Chicago on Monday night as they detoured to Indy for a speedy visit en route to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix this Sunday.

Sato is 25, but amazingly, he didn't decide to become a race driver until he was 19.

"I saw some advertising in magazine about driving school run by Honda," he said. "They have an age limit. You have to be under 20 years old. Then I thought, 'I was 19, this is the last time.' I immediately reported. This is the last time for me, last opportunity."

Sato said his parents had no knowledge of motorsports, but he was interested since childhood. He raced bicycles and won championships in high school and college. He sold part of his bicycle equipment to purchase a kart and in 1997 attended Honda's Suzuka Racing School.

"Obviously, quite a few Japanese drivers come to the States now," he said. "Two of them were my teachers in motor racing school. Mr. Hattori. I am looking forward to seeing him when I come back to the States."

Hattori, who finished 20th in his first Indianapolis 500, will compete in the Boomtown 500 Indy Racing League event Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. His student races the next day at Montreal.

Sato was so good in the driving school that he won a full scholarship to race in the All Japan Formula 3 Championship in 1998. He turned it down. He wanted to follow his hero, Ayrton Senna, into Formula One. Senna cut his racing teeth in the British Formula 3 series.

Sato headed for England, because he knew a driver must speak English to be successful in Formula One. At the time, he spoke only Japanese.

"England, obviously, was the best opportunity to go race there and learn English, as well," Sato said. "I felt the British Formula 3 was the best way to get to a Formula One team. I made the decision to go."

In four short years from his debut at Snetterton, England, in the Formula Vauxhall Junior series, he had reached his goal. In 2001, he won 12 races for Carlin Motorsport on the way to the British F3 title. He had driven in tests for Jordan at the end of the 2000 season, and colorful Irish team owner Eddie Jordan put him into his second F1 car for this season.

"It was a great experience for me, and I am so pleased working for him," Sato said. "He's great."

Thus far, Sato has failed to score a point. Two weeks ago at Monaco, Sato was in position to get his first F1 point. But he was told to pull over to allow Fisichella to pass and get the point. Sato moved his car to the right exiting the famous tunnel, got in the dust and crashed. Still, he has no complaints.

"It was a good race until the accident happened," he said. "But I am pleased Giancarlo scored a point, which is good for us. I could have scored a point, which is great. Unfortunately, I didn't, but I think everything is OK."

Before coming to North America, Sato tested the updated Honda V10 engine. It was thought he might use it in qualifying at Montreal, but Honda decided to delay the engine's debut.

Sato and his group flew Monday from Washington to Chicago but then were grounded by thunderstorms. They drove to Indianapolis and arrived at 1:30 in the morning.

But Tuesday morning, Sato tested parts of the circuit in a street car. He was unable to make a complete lap because barriers placed at certain areas for the Indianapolis 500 were still up.

"It's a great opportunity to come here and see how the atmosphere and the track is like before the Grand Prix," Sato said. "You can see how the track is like. I was just glad to try it."

Sato called the 2.606-mile course a unique circuit but noted that the new oval track at Rockingham (England) has the same type of road course and banking on its road circuit. He drove on it in British Formula 3 last season.

"It's one of the most historical racetracks all over the world," Sato said of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It's a huge place, huge. I'm really impressed. Thank you very much for whoever supported me and arranged for me (to be) here today."

And his goal for the rest of the season?

"This is my rookie year," he said. "Whatever you do is just good experience. Formula One is such a tough race. We are not in as good a shape as we expected. We're trying very, very hard.

"My target is to score the point. It's possible. Maybe at Montreal, maybe here. I'm hoping."

-ims-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Shigeaki Hattori , Eddie Jordan , Ayrton Senna
Teams Carlin , Jordan