NEW YORK (AP) – There is no rest for Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato, and that’s OK.
Still ecstatic on Tuesday at his new place in history as the first Japanese driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Sato posed for photos atop the Empire State Building, rang the Nasdaq opening bell in New York City’s Times Square, and continued to bare his soul as he pondered his accomplishment.
“It’s a fantastic feeling, not only my personal feeling but the whole team – Andretti Autosport – did a fantastic job,” Sato said. “It means a lot to the sponsor, it means a lot to the fans, it means a lot to Japan, too.”
Sato used his appearances to again raise awareness for the thousands of people in Japan who remain displaced from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people.
“There are still 250,000 people living in temporary housing, so this is definitely a great acceleration to support them,” said Sato, who normally has worn a special helmet for the Indy 500 that he would later auction to raise money for the relief funds in Japan.
Sato also spoke for the first time since Terry Frei, a veteran sports writer for The Denver Post, was fired for posting on Twitter that he was “uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend.” Frei apologized and said his tweet occurred during an emotional time when he was honoring his late father, who was a World War II pilot in the fight against Japan.
Sato called it unfortunate that a writer had lost his job but said he appreciates the support he’s received from those who thought Frei’s comments were inappropriate.
“I do respect The Denver Post decision,” Sato said.
Sato, a former Formula One driver, is in his eighth season in the IndyCar Series. He had one previous victory, the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and had developed a reputation for crashing. His victory Sunday helped erase the heart-breaking finish of the 2012 Indy 500 , when he wrecked while trying to pass eventual winner Dario Franchitti on the final lap.
This year, in part due to his long relationship with Honda, Sato landed with a top-tier team for the first time since moving to the American open-wheel series. He’s in a three-way tie for second place in the IndyCar standings with defending champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing. The trio is just 11 points behind leader Helio Castroneves of Penske.
“Well, now we achieved the big dream and achievement,” Sato said. “Now we are concentrating on the rest of the season, try to get as many points as possible to challenge for the championship.”
(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)