Formula Junior, Tsukuba,1983
My first race was in Formula Junior at Tsukuba in April 1983. At the time I was a mechanic and I had a chance to test the car. The Juniors were like a Formula Ford car, but with a 1600cc Subaru engine. They were very easy to drive. Suddenly I found my talent in terms of lap times, and I was faster than the regular driver. There are many stories like that in racing, I think! Anyway, I entered a race at Tsukuba. And I got pole position. And I won! Before the start my legs were like a jellyfish, but I led all the way and had no problems. Honestly, I was very excited, because suddenly something had changed in my mind. My interest was just in the speed, it was not about winning or the mechanics of the car. It’s very difficult to explain, but I was crazy about it. I also won the championship that year, but I didn’t have the budget to keep motor racing and I did just a few races each year. I wasn’t thinking about getting to grand prix racing at that time.
…and my last race — Le Mans, 2003
My last proper race was Le Mans in 2003 with the Kondo Racing Dome-Mugen. I was sharing with Masahiko Kondo (the team owner) and Ryo Fukuda — we finished 13th after losing time with a driveshaft failure. It’s completely different now — it’s a hobby. But retirement isn’t in my dictionary! My last GP was at Jerez with Minardi in 1997 and my mother came for the first time — she never wanted to watch me race, although she always helped me when I was young.