SIC Racing Team’s 17-year-old Japanese Ayumu Sasaki concluded his debut season in 20th place. He scored championship points in 8 of the 18 grands prix. His highest place was 7th at the Australian Grand Prix. He won the Rookie of the Year for the lightweight category, after the final race in Valencia. Looking back on his 2017 season, Sasaki rated 5 out of 10 for his performance.
“I am happy to win the Rookie of the Year, for everyone who supported me all season. But I think, in the race, all that matters is the result, regardless of what you do or how you perform. In that sense, I’m not satisfied with my results so that I have to minus 5 from a full score. On the other hand, I learned a lot during this year, which means I can add 5 from zero. So, one way or the other, I rate myself 5.”
His burning ambition before the start of the 2017 season was met with the reality that races are a series of struggles. Although Sasaki didn’t expect these hardships, he never felt anxious either.
“To be honest, I felt something was wrong at the beginning, but it didn’t upset me at all. I just did what I could one race at a time and moved forward. I knew where I had to improve, and tried to do it methodically. That’s probably why I didn’t feel upset even when my results were bad. In some races, I focused on improving the Friday sessions, and in other races, I tried to improve my qualifying. Then, the days went by very quickly and the season finished!”
Sasaki reflected upon the 2017 season: it was the most difficult year in his racing career. But at the same time, tough competition gave him a lot of opportunities to learn more than any other year in his life.
“Bad results never pulled me down. It actually made me tougher mentally. Since the beginning of this season, my riding skills have also improved. I learned more from my bad races than the good ones. I didn’t lose my confidence, either. I have nothing to lose! I am not satisfied my results, but it was a very productive season because I learned and absorbed a lot.”
More than anything, Ayumu believes, always aiming high is most important. This is what he fixed in his mind this year.
“You always have to aim for victory, no matter what position you are in the race. This is paramount to everything, and it is what I recognized this year. In any championships I did in the past, I always tried to win the race. So I should keep this approach, also in Grand Prix racing. It makes no sense I that give up this attitude even when my position was far behind. You cannot win races unless you try. When people ask me 'what is your target in this weekend?,' I may answer 'I will try to finish in the top 10' or 'my target is the top 6,' but deep down inside, I always aim for victory. I set it as my permanent rule, but I seemed to forget it in the middle of the season.”
Sasaki's objective for the 2018 season is fighting in the lead group in all races. For the following year, his third season in the Moto3 class, he will try to win the championship.
“I would like to fight for the championship next year, if I can. But, my priority is always being in the lead group and finishing the championship in the top 6. Then I will try to win the championship in the 2019 season.
"I assume Moto2 is very difficult category and even for a Moto3 champion, he would struggle and finish the race outside of the top 10. So, I want to move up to Moto2 after I become the most competitive rider in Moto3. My racing career will be long, so I don’t have to hurry at all. What I have to do now is steadily build myself up. That’s why my target for next year is to be in the lead group each race and fight for the podium. If I finish on the podium, so much the better.” Ayumu smiled broadly. “Even if I said 'I can fight for the top 6, top 3 is possible,' my team and mechanics would not believe me. So, I think it is the rider’s job to motivate them. If you try hard and get good results, they would think 'look, this boy is doing pretty good. Now it’s my turn to do the job to get better results.' In 2018, I want my team and my staff to be motivated with my performance!”