Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Mutoh Makes His Moves To Indycars
During Honda's successful 14-year run in American open-wheel racing, the company has given several Japanese drivers an opportunity to shine. And, while there have been some highlights, a real star has yet to emerge.
But that could be changing.
Because Hideki Mutoh looks like the real deal.
This 25-year-old native of Tokyo got everyone's attention last season by winning a pair of Indy Lights Series races (one on the road course at Indianapolis and one on the oval at Kentucky) while finishing second in the championship standings of the Indy Racing League's ladder series.
Then, in the 2007 IRL season finale at Chicagoland, Mutoh made a dazzling debut - running among the leaders, setting the fastest lap of the race and finishing eighth.
"That showed me a lot about Hideki, to be that quick and that aggressive in his first start," praised Michael Andretti, co-owner of the IndyCar Mutoh drives for Andretti Green Racing. "I think he's got huge potential."
Mutoh's reward was taking Dario Franchitti's seat next to Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick in the 2008 AGR driver lineup. He has responded with an outstanding rookie season to date, highlighted by a runner-up finish at Iowa in late June.
As of this writing, Mutoh stood sixth in the IndyCar drivers' championship and was leading a robust field of a dozen drivers in the chase for the Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year award.
"Mario Andretti is one of my racing heroes, along with Aguri Suzuki and Satoru Nakajima, and driving for AGR and Michael is more than I could have ever expected," Mutoh says.
"All of my teammates have been very helpful and given me lots of good advice. It's a great team."
A late starter by American standards, Hideki didn't begin racing go-karts until he was 12. He quickly moved through Honda's "Formula Dream" driver development program. He ran Formula Vauxhall and Formula Fords in Europe before heading back to Asia for competition in Formula 2000 and Formula Dream, where he captured the title in 2003.
From there, the natural progression would have seemed to follow the path of Suzuki and Nakajima into Formula One, but Mutoh wanted a career in Indy Cars.
"Obviously, IndyCar is the top open-wheel category in the United States, and I wanted to race in the top category," he said. "I like ovals and road courses, because each have their own difficulty and attractive points.
"I love racing the Indy Cars. I know that."
Asked how a road racer adapted to quickly to turning left, Mutoh replied:
"I really don't know what the key is, but the Panther Team [for whom Mutoh drove in Chicago last season] prepared a great car for me. The car was great, and that race in Chicago [where he set fastest race lap and finished 8th] was the turning point.
"It made me realize how much I wanted to be in the IndyCar Series and how exciting it is."
HIDEKI MUTOH AT A GLANCE:
Date of Birth: October 6, 1982 (age 25)
Place of Birth: Tokyo
2008 INDYCAR SERIES
Debut season: 2007
Current team: Andretti Green Racing
Car No.: 27
Former teams: Super Aguri Panther
Starts: 13 (through July)
Best finish: 2nd at Iowa
1998-1999: European Formula Vauxhall
2000-2001: British Formula Ford
2002-2003: Japanese Formula Dream
2004-2005: Japanese Formula Three
2006: Japanese Formula Nippon
2006: Japanese Super GT
2007: Indy Racing League Indy Pro Series
2001: 3rd, UK Formula Ford Festival
2002: 2nd Japanese Formula Dream
2003: Formula Dream Champion
2005: 3rd Japanese Formula Three
2007: 2nd Indy Pro Series