ON MAY 28, Takuma Sato of Japan won the 101st Indianapolis 500. In holding off three-time Indy champ Helio Castroneves, the 40-year-old Sato became the first Asian to claim victory in "the greatest spectacle in racing" and the third Andretti Autosport driver to do so in the last four years. When it was over, he let out a scream, kissed the bricks and doused himself in milk before setting off on a whirlwind week that kept him busier than a jack on pit road. But he did take time to speak with SI about the experience and his upcoming trip back to Japan.
What were you thinking as you crossed the finish line?
TS: That was the most significant moment in my life. You could hear my screaming on TV—excuse me for that. It was absolute joy.
What has been the best part of your celebration tour?
TS: I loved the moment when I saw everybody cheering while I stood on top of the car. The 300,000 fans all cheering. The place was buzzing. It was incredible. And seeing [team owner] Michael [Andretti] with a big smile, that was a fantastic moment.
Why did you discuss the 2011 Japanese earthquake in your postrace remarks?
TS: There are still more than 200,000 people living in temporary housing. I want to take this energy and passion and provide real support for the children from the devastated areas.
Before you were a champion driver, you were a champion cyclist. How did that start?
TS: I was always keen on racing since I was 10, but I never had the opportunity. So instead I got a bicycle, and by the time I was in high school I was competing in all-Japan championships. My dream was to make the Olympics, but deep in my heart I always wanted to become a racing driver. I found a racing school when I was 19, and that's how I started my racing career. Whenever I have the time, I'll grab my bike and go for a ride.
A Denver Post reporter tweeted that he was "very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend." How did you react to that?
TS: It is very unfortunate that he lost a job. I was really sad to hear that. I have no personal feelings toward him. I hope that he gets a job back as soon as possible. I appreciate that I was able to compete in such an iconic racing event in the United States, but equally I love my country, Japan.
How does driving in Tokyo compare with here in the U.S.?
TS: In the U.S., you have these massive five lanes headed the same way. You'd never find that in Tokyo. The roads are so skinny there. The traffic is always frustrating. But it's a great country.