The Japanese racing superstar talks driving Ayrton Senna’s McLaren Honda and the biggest day of his life: winning the Indy 500
There are few more iconic cars in the history of motorsport than the McLaren Honda MP4/4 that Ayrton Senna drove to the 1988 Formula 1 World Championship.
Senna took eight victories in the MP4/4 that year, while McLaren Honda team-mate Alain Prost took seven, which gave the title to the Brazilian legend by just three points.
Earlier this month Japanese star Takuma Sato got the chance to drive several full-throttle laps in Senna’s 1988 car at the Honda Racing Thanks Day at Twin Ring Motegi. Even for Japan’s first Indy 500 winner and the country’s most successful Formula 1 driver this outing was a career highlight.
“The MP4/4 is such a special car and means so much to so many people – I felt really privileged to drive it,” said the 42-year-old. “What a sound it makes, too! Driving Ayrton’s car is a very special moment for me.”
The MP4/4 is powered by Honda’s RA168E, a 1.5 litre V6 turbo engine with an output of about 850 horsepower. The car is one of the most dominant machines to compete in Formula 1. During 1988 it took victory in all but one of the 16 Grands Prix, a record 93.8 percent success rate that still stands today.
Sato took two more trips down memory lane during the Thanks Day. He made his reacquaintance with the Andretti Autosport Honda, the car that took him to victory in the 2017 Indy 500, the world’s biggest car race. This car – powered by a V6 2.2 litre Honda engine with twin turbochargers – made Sato world famous overnight.
“That victory was just an amazing experience,” he adds. “I had already been on the podium in Formula 1 but this was a dream come true, because there’s nothing like winning the 500 in front of more than 350,000 people.
“As a race car driver you naturally appreciate the whole situation when you take the chequered flag. I was preparing to say something [over the radio] but the words never came out from my mouth, either in Japanese or in English. All I could was just scream – I was screaming like a new-born baby! It was an explosion of my feelings and emotions. It was unbelievable.
“The Indy 500 is such a difficult to race, because everything has to be absolutely perfect, so when it all comes together it’s so special.”
Sato also took a drive around Motegi in a Honda Suzuka Racing School car, the same spec of car he raced in Japan in 1997, which kickstarted his international career. In other words, it’s been Honda all the way for Sato.
“I’m proud to have been a part of the Honda family ever since the Honda Suzuka Racing School. That school made my career happen and from there I raced in a lot of junior formulas, which eventually got me into Formula 1 with Honda.
“I have great memories of working with the Honda engineers at Tochigi back then and today in the U.S with the IndyCar guys. It’s so special when you have so many Honda engineers all melting into one goal. Winning the Indy 500 with all the Honda Performance Development guys was very emotional. I feel like I’m a really fortunate guy.
“This Honda Racing Thanks Day at Motegi is a great opportunity for fans to see the heritage of Honda, and for all the drivers and riders to have fun, but also getting quite serious when they race. It’s the perfect way to finish the season with a very happy moment and the best way to show the fans how much we appreciate their support.”
The Honda Racing Thanks Day is a unique annual event from the only company that creates racing machines for the world’s top car and motorcycle championships, from Formula 1 to MotoGP and from IndyCar to World Superbikes and many more.