When I started racing in my home country, Japan, it was in a touring car—a bit of a “Mickey Mouse” car compared with the touring cars known in Europe, but it was a start. There were many experienced drivers in the series—The Fuji Freshman Series—I felt very inexperienced and a little out of my depth. After just a handful of races in 1985 and 1986, I decided I had to move to the UK. I needed good training and advice if I was going to take my ambition to become a racing driver seriously. So, I moved—that would be around 1987—and took a Jim Russell Racing Drivers Course at Snetterton. It sounds very easy, but what you have to remember, I was Japanese and couldn’t speak very much English. Of course, not many English people speak Japanese. It’s not just a question of language, it’s living in a country quite different in many ways to my own. Although I struggled, I got through—taking jobs here and there to pay for my racing.
The following season I thought I was ready to race in the FF1600 Championship. David Sears, who was to play a bigger part in my future racing gave me a start and I raced in the 1988 FF1600 Championship in England. The racing, and I think this is especially so in the UK, at FF1600 level is very exciting. There are many young drivers all trying to be the best, all trying to win and get noticed, they all want to get to Formula One. It was a great experience—especially the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. I can’t say I was the best driver, but I got great experience. I wanted to return the following year and compete in the British Formula Three Championship. I thought it was just a matter of returning to Japan, getting the sponsorship, returning to the UK and paying a team for a drive—I was so wrong. I mention the word paying, as the English words that you first seem to understand are “No pay, no drive!” If only I’d been paid for the times I heard it. Paying doesn’t buy you anything in a team, just the seat to drive for the race weekend, no testing—it doesn’t mean they like you, or they will take care of you either—as I found out at Footwork.
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