TOKYO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - One hour behind the wheel of a brutish IndyCar vehicle had Japan’s Takuma Sato grinning from ear to ear and convinced him to put his Formula One hopes on hold.
The 33-year-old has joined KV Racing after exhausting potential options for a seat in Formula One for the forthcoming season.
“The whole concept is different,” Sato told Reuters on Friday. “Oval racing particularly is completely unknown territory for me at the moment.
“I went to last year’s Indy 500 and if you stand in the middle of oval at turn one the cars scream past you at 360-370 kph and into the apex the car just slides.
“It felt really scary to watch it. It was a big shock.”
Sato, who had been on the Formula One sidelines since the collapse of the Honda-powered Super Aguri team in 2008, tested for KV earlier this week in his first taste of IndyCar.
“I’ve only driven for one hour,” he said. “I had this big smile after and I felt like a kid.
“The car is different from F1. It’s heavier and there are lots of things that don’t have electric controls. It’s classical racing.
“Everyone uses the same chassis, the same engine, the same tyres, which means everyone has a chance to win races, which from a driver’s point of view is great.
“Formula One is about technology. It’s about the constructors, not only the drivers. It’s about engineering and designing and technology.”
Sato, who spent seven years in Formula One, opted for the switch to IndyCar racing after failing to secure a drive at Toro Rosso, Renault or the Malaysian-backed Lotus team.
“I was always dreaming of continuing in F1 but I wanted a competitive car,” said Sato, who finished a career-best eighth in the drivers’ championship in 2004 with BAR.
“Being competitive was something I missed in the last few seasons. There were seats available — with Campos or U.S. F1 — but I don’t feel it was appropriate.
“The name is F1 but I can’t see those cars being competitive,” added the Tokyo-born driver, whose best Formula One race result was third at the U.S. Grand Prix in 2004.
Sato said he would only consider a return to motor racing’s glamour series with a team that could offer a realistic chance of him challenging for podium finishes.
“That’s the general idea,” he said. “I was very close with Toro Rosso and Lotus and Renault but it’s always something beyond your control. That’s F1.”
Sato said his move to IndyCar with Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven’s KV team was a step forward.
“I just want to drive fast cars,” said before climbing into his Maserati.
“I’ll use my experience and speed in IRL (Indy Racing League). You’ve got what you’ve got and it’s a fast, open-wheel car. KV has huge potential and it’s fantastic to be back.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston. To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org