IRL: Yasukawa anxious to get back to competition

IRL: Yasukawa anxious to get back to competition

This year Roger Yasukawa will be making his second start in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race - but it will be only his second start of the year in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series. Roger Yasukawa. Photo by Michael Kim. After ...

This year Roger Yasukawa will be making his second start in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race - but it will be only his second start of the year in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series.

Roger Yasukawa.
Photo by Michael Kim.
After running the full, 16-race 2003 campaign with Super Aguri Fernandez Racing, the 26-year-old California-born Yasukawa faced the problem of finding a new ride for 2004. His goal last year was to secure Bombardier Rookie of the Year honors; a furious finish by Dan Wheldon scotched that plan and Yasukawa settled for 12th in the final season standings behind Wheldon.

That wasn't enough to keep his ride with the team so, after the Texas finale Yasukawa looked around for another option. He landed a two-race deal with Team Rahal, and will make his season debut next week in the IRL's second Japan Indy 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, the track built by engine supplier Honda about an hour northwest of Tokyo.

When Yasukawa first went to visit Team Rahal's facility in Hilliard, OH, he was very impressed. "I was really surprised by the facility and the teamwork and everything. It is so much different from Fernandez and I really feel I have a better opportunity here," with an established squad that has been in operation for a long time.

"Last year they finished second at Motegi," Roger recounted. "Also they won the race in the past in Motegi (with Kenny Brack in 2001), so the history is great there. You know the car was strong last year at the 500, as well. So I'm really looking forward to those two races," he said.

The Indy Racing League's first visit to Twin Ring Motegi wasn't terribly kind to Yasukawa, who started 15th and finished 21st after being caught up in one of many accidents during that race. He and Helio Castroneves collided in the second turn on lap 45, knocking both out of the competition.

At Indianapolis last year, Yasukawa drove a steady race from 11th starting spot to finish 10th, under the guidance of spotter and former driver John Martin. For the entire 16-race season, Roger had a total of eight top-10 finishes, leading at both Phoenix International Raceway and Pikes Peak International Raceway.

To prepare for his upcoming two races, Yasukawa did have the benefit of a Honda manufacturers' test at Phoenix on March 30th, which enabled him to get the kinks out and refresh his memory about the Indy cars. Since last season a lot has changed on the cars and his new team has switched from a Dallara to a Panoz G Force chassis for 2004.

"The test went really well. We ran all day without any problems at all, which I think is very rare for a first day of testing. I think I'm pretty much ready to race at Motegi," Yasukawa explained. "The Panoz G Force has a different sensation when driving than the Dallara I drove last year, where I felt more sense of security," he reflected. "But all the downforce levels have changed since 2003 so there really isn't a good way to compare."

The #16 Panoz G Force/Honda Yasukawa will drive next week is sponsored by Sammy, a company best known in the United States as a maker of Pachinko pinball machines. The firm, which also makes slot machines have just bought Sega, so will use this partnership to accent their entrance into the game entertainment field. "They actually have an office here in America, which I think they mostly do cartoon and movie stuff."

Team Rahal's Scott Roembke, Kenny Brack, Buddy Rice, Roger Yasukawa.
Photo by IMS LLC.
Team Rahal will have a total of three cars at this year's Japan Indy 300 and in the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. At Twin Ring Motegi, Yasukawa's teammates will be Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira. All three will be trying to bring home a victory for Honda, to erase the stigma of never having won at its purpose-built oval.

If Yasukawa were to win the race in Japan, it would be a big deal in his family's home country. "If I do win at the track, I think it will be a big thing for me. Hopefully I have a lifetime job after that," he joked. "I may be president of Honda, you never know. It certainly is a big race and I think everybody in Japan is excited. I think you'll see many more fans at Twin Ring Motegi this year."

To that effect, Roger Yasukawa has already arrived in Japan, doing promotional work for Honda and for Sammy. And he's looking forward to a return to Indianapolis and another strong run in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It's been tough to be at Homestead and Phoenix to watch his competitors work it out, but Yasukawa is looking forward to these two races and, hopefully the balance of the 16-race campaign.

"Last year I learned a lot and hope to use all my knowledge to get a good result" in these two races. It would be good to bet we haven't seen the last of Roger Yasukawa.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Kenny Brack , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Vitor Meira , Michael Kim