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An image from Kizuna 6 Exhibition

From left: Consul General Naoki Ito, Yuno Kimura, Leroy Allala of Chicago Sister Cities International, Lisa Kohnke of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Office, and Thomas Choi of Governor Bruce Rauner's Office. Kimura presents flowers to express Japanese people's gratitude for Chicagoans.

Takuma Sato presents his activities to help the victims in Tohoku.

• Professional race car driver Takuma Sato
Kizuna 6 Ceremony: Racing Driver Takuma Sato Committed To Helping Tohoku Disaster Victims

• An annual commemorative ceremony for “Kizuna 6: Resilience,” a program to remember the victims of the 2011 great earthquake and tsunami, was held at the Consulate General of Japan’s Japan Information Center in Chicago on March 23. Renowned professional race car driver Takuma Sato was among the special guests to speak about the disaster victims and the widely shared efforts to help their recovery.

• The event was initiated in 2012 by the Chicago-based jazz musician Yoko Noge, who is also the chair of the Osaka Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International. Since then, a series of commemorative events have been held every March to address the disaster and recovery of the people in the disaster-hit Tohoku area, including a photo exhibition, panel discussion and film screenings. This year, the Kizuna 6 Committee was co-chaired by Kimiyo Naka and Kaori Eguchi Stearney and invited Takuma Sato, who founded a nonprofit organization, “With you Japan,” in 2011 to help the children who were affected by the disaster.

• A commemorative photo exhibition is being held in Chicago throughout April. Curated by Alan Labb of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the “Kizuna 6: Resilience” Photo Exhibition features a selection of the photos of the disaster-hit Tohoku area from the past exhibitions, as well as some new photos by Kiyotaka Shishido, a Tohoku-based photographer, and photos of Kumamoto, the area hit by 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes.

• According to Labb, each photo is the visual evidence of resilience and the power of recovery, while it shows the struggle and hardship the local residents face. The photos depict both Japan’s collective strength to overcome the worst conditions and the vulnerability of the life in Japan to natural disasters, Labb said.
• In his opening remarks, Consul General of Japan in Chicago Naoki Ito thanked the people in Chicago and the Midwest for quickly responding to the disaster by setting up a disaster relief fund and initiating other actions. He also noted that there are still 140,000 evacuees, while 40,000 people are still living in temporary housing. Continuing assistance is needed until they can all get back to normal life, Ito added.
• He also talked about signs of new development in the Tohoku region, such as “Onagawa inochi no kyokasho,” a compilation of stories of and lessons from the disaster by a group of high school students in Onagawa-cho, Miyagi.

• Both Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner praised the recovery effort being made by the Tohoku residents in their respective messages. Lisa Kohnke from the Mayor’s Office read Emanuel’s message and Thomas Choi from the Governor’s Office read Rauner’s.

Takuma Sato: “No Attack, No Chance”

• Professional race car driver Takuma Sato is globally known for competing in the IndyCar Series and Formula One races. He became involved in assisting the 2011 earthquake victims shortly after the disaster hit. He announced the launching of a direct support campaign, “With you Japan,” during the opening of the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, Florida. He eventually collected items for fund raising from his fellow drivers and team members, such as signed race gloves, helmets, and racing suits.

• Sato said he was on the plane from Europe to the U.S. when the disaster struck. When he heard about it at the airport, Sato was badly shaken and couldn’t help asking himself, “Should I be competing in a car race at a time like this?” But it wasn’t possible to throw his commitment out of the window and simply go to the disaster area to help. As he remained in his engagement, Sato eventually came up with the idea of “With you Japan.”

• Sato has been the primary force to push for awareness in the U.S. of the Tohoku area and its people; he has held a number of fundraising events including one in Long Beach, California, and visited elementary schools in Indianapolis, Las Vegas and other cities to talk to the children about the victims in Tohoku and their recovery.
• In May, Sato visited schools in the cities of Ishinomaki and Minami-Sanriku, both in the Tohoku region, to encourage the students.
• This past summer, he invited children and their families of Minami Soma, Fukushima, 129 people in total, for a charity event held at a motorsport race track located in the Tochigi Prefecture. A number of race car drivers, regardless of their sponsors, participated in the event to entertain the children who couldn’t play outdoors due to the nuclear plant mishap in Fukushima.
• He also invited 21 children and their families from Natori, Miyagi to a three-day tour to see the Indy Japan Premium race.
• Sato continues to infuse a remarkable amount of energy in various support events, as seen on the website:

• Sato also wants children to know the importance of having a dream and enjoying taking up a challenge through experiencing out-of-the-ordinaries. His “Takuma Kids Cart Challenge” program is part of his effort to introduce children to the exciting world of racing.
• During the program, participating children learn how to drive a go-kart, ending it with driving around a track and having his or her time measured. The program began by inviting the children from the disaster-hit area, and now as many as 450 children from across the country participate the program. A championship race is held with the top 40 participants, who are divided into teams of four to five children. Through this experience, children from all over Japan find new friends and learn how to work together for a common goal, Sato said.
• One day a girl of about four came to the Challenge. At the beginning, she was scared and cried. But she slowly got used to driving the main track, and by the end of the day, she completed a time trial run, coming to the finish line with a big smile on her face.
• Sato wants children to remember such an experience in the future, to be resilient when they face seemingly insurmountable difficulties. “I want to help provide such experiences,” he said.

Challenge for Sato

• Born in Tokyo in 1977, Sato fell in love with car racing at the age of 10 when he saw it. Not forgetting his love for wheels, he was into bicycle racing through his teens, winning numerous races and awards. But his love was always in car racing.
• When he was 19, Sato heard about the opening of a new racing school, Suzuka Circuit Racing School. The age cap for applicants was 20. He convinced his parents for their approval, but the school was going to consider applicants’ previous kart records only for admission. Desperate, Sato pleaded to directly talk to the school officials, stressing that this was his “first and last chance.” In the end, the school agreed and conducted interviews of all 70 applicants. Sato was one of the seven applicants who were admitted to the school.
• He finished the school with a scholarship, which was the most important factor in the continuation of his racing career, according to Sato.
• After graduation, Sato moved to the U.K. to train as a professional racing driver while taking English language classes. In the U.K., he steadily advanced in the ranks of the racing world with Formula Three championship wins, and graduated to become a Formula One driver. In 2010, he moved to the U.S. to compete in the IndyCar Series.

No Attack, No Chance

• At the 2012 Indy 500 mile race in Indianapolis, Sato started at the 19th and jumped in second place during the last two of the 200 laps. Unsatisfied with the second spot, Sato tried to steal the lead by cutting the inside of the corner of the track during the final lap. Then his car spun around, skidded out of the track and crashed into the side wall.
• The second place gets $1 million, but Sato thinks that “it’s all or nothing in Indy 500.” He has no regret that he missed the chance to get $1 million; “No attack, no chance” is his racing style, his philosophy, Sato said.
• “Without this challenging spirit, probably I wouldn’t have been racing today,” Sato said. After this race, he was asked to, and did, join AJ Foyt Racing which was searching for a “driver with a solid determination to win.” The following year, in 2013, he won the third race of the IndyCar Series in Long Beach by a big margin, and became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race.

• Looking back on his career, Sato wants to tell children to not be afraid. “You need to challenge when a chance presents itself,” he said. “Someone is watching when you do, and we need to create an environment for children that empowers them to think they can take on a challenge.


Interview with Takuma Sato

• Q: You became a Formula One driver so quickly after you finished the Suzuka Circuit Racing School.

• Sato: The normal course of career to reach the level of F1 takes about 15 to 20 years, starting with driving a go-kart at the age of three or four. In my case, it took just five years after I first put my hands on the go-kart steering wheel.
• In the U.K., I set a goal to achieve something memorable in the Formula Three category within the first two years. But then I realized I needed experience, so I lowered the initial bar and began in the F3 junior category. Living in a foreign country alone, with many younger competitors joining the race every day, I told myself I just had to succeed or forget the whole thing.
• A year and a half later, in 2000, I competed in the entire season of F3 for the first time. By that time, I could communicate in English and had more understanding of racing. My goal was to be a driver for a top team, regardless of nationality.

• Q: You had four wins in the British F3 Series, and secured 3rd place in the entire Series, as well as the first place in a French F3 race, then the British F3 Series champion with 12 wins in the Series, first place in the F3 International Invitation Challenge, first place in the Marlboro Masters of Formula Three, and the first place in the 48th Macau GP. You’ve climbed to the top of the world as a F3 driver.

• Sato: A lot of people helped me to reach that position. Also the F3 championship prepared me to climb up to the world of F1. Also a good timing helped – at that time Honda was pushing for F1. The world of motorsports is made of many forces and factors that are out of an individual’s control.

• Q: I hear that good communication between the driver and the mechanic is indispensable to win a race.

• Sato: That’s really the point. The role of the racing driver is to work on the potential of the car he or she is driving up to nearly 100%. We drivers all think that we must make up for the imperfection of the car with our driving skill, but that’s possible only in the lowest categories of the races. The higher the level you go, the less possible it becomes to make up for the mechanical potential of the car with human skills. Driving a high-performance car, any driver can come up with a good result. But in order to get there, a team effort is required between the driver and a team of mechanics and engineers who must bring the car to its best condition within a limited period of time. Good communication skills and knowledge is definitely necessary for it to work.
• For example, you are given just three 45-minute practice runs before the preliminary race, and then the final. Once you are on the lap, there are pit stops, tire changes, refueling, and if you lose one second during a pit stop, it’s so hard to make up that second afterward in the race. Your car is running at the full speed to begin with, so if you are regaining 0.1 second per lap, it will take 10 laps to recover one whole second. The driver fights for one 10,000th of a second in the race, the mechanics strive to complete their work without errors and any unnecessary time loss. It’s an ultimate teamwork.
• The driver doesn’t just drive the car, either. He or she has to be able to read the ever-changing conditions of the tires, handling conditions, strategies against competitors, and so on. And you have to be able to communicate such information with your team through radio and at the same time make quick judgment on the shifting situation. The overall ability like that composes a “competitive package” that makes a good driver a champion. Some drivers don’t have that.

• Q: You switched from AJ Foyt Racing to Andretti Autosport this year.

• Sato: It takes time to get used to new ways of doing things and build new relationships, but it’s also fun. This [Andretti] is an absolutely strong team, so I expect I’ll have a lot more opportunities to compete for the leading position in the race, which excites me pretty much. So I really want to get used to the team as quickly as possible so I can perform my best in the way the team operates. That’s going to be a challenge for me.

• Q: I see that during a race, you could get behind after a pit stop even though you have been at the top up until then.

• Sato: Ultimately it’s the decision to be made by both the driver and the team. For example, when you don’t have enough fuel for the last two laps, because you lose about 20 seconds in one pit stop, you plan for a pit stop after you’ve first created a 20-second lead by driving at a full speed. If you can create only a 10-second lead, you drive in such a way that you can save your fuel even if that causes one or two seconds of slowdown per lap. It’s possible that you can make it to the finish line without refueling if you plan right and control your driving correctly.
• The team calculates the possible outcome based on its strategy and gives the driver options, and it’s the driver who makes the final decisions. When you have cars in front of you that are still running laps behind you, for example, your planned strategy can change on the spot.

• Q: Do you ever get scared?

• Sato: I’m a human after all, so I get scared a lot of times.
• But, I think, we feel scared when we can’t see ahead into the future. When you’re racing at a tremendous speed, you don’t know what’s going to happen when you just turn the corner ahead of you. You might crash into the wall and get killed. That makes you fearful, but that’s because the car and the driver are not merged into one.
• When I feel my car and I are merged into one, I have this feeling that all the nerves in my body are spread into the tires. When that happens, the car is completely under my control, and I feel nothing even when the car slides at 300 kilometers per hour.
• But that’s only my personal feelings as an individual driver. When you’re in a race, of course, there are many outside factors to take into consideration, and there are many occasions that scare you. But personally, for me, expectations for thrill and joy always exceed fear.

• Q: Have you had major accidents?

• Sato: Many times. But, generally speaking, the safety standards of the top categories such as IndyCar and Formula One are extremely high. I’ve crashed into the wall at 300 kilometers per hour and received more than 100G shock many times, but I have never had broken bones or lost consciousness. Fortunately, I’ve been in perfect health.

• Q: Is that because you physically train your body?

• Sato: Not just training. The race car manufacturers and race track operators constantly keep up with safety considerations. They do scientific studies to determine and install tire barriers and safety barriers, for instance. That enables us drivers to concentrate 100% on driving performance. That’s such a big difference from 50 years ago.

• Q: What can you tell us about courtesy between competing drivers on the track when they are fighting each other for a 0.1 second difference?

• Sato: We do have courtesy. We must have respect for each other, no matter how safe it might be. After all, we are putting out a huge amount of kinetic energy when the car is running at 300 kilometers per hour.
• We are competitors, and sometimes you find some drivers you don’t like. But we all have fundamental respect and consideration toward each other. Especially, in IndyCar races, you often find yourself driving right next to other cars at an extremely high speed, so that makes it even more necessary to respect each other.

• Q: Is it hard to get a new sponsor?

• Sato: Every year we have a hard time with that. Times change and it’s crucial to catch the right timing. Nowadays it’s a tough going if you don’t have support from [auto] manufacturers. I’m always extremely grateful that I have many corporate and individual sponsors that support me and my racing activities.
• Sponsors usually share my dreams and passion for the sport, or have corporate visions that actively support them, in the case of company sponsors. That’s something I appreciate very much. This is a sport that can’t be maintained without sponsors.

• Q: Thank you ver