16-year-old Japanese rider Ayumu Sasaki is one of the most sensational rookies in this season's Moto3 World Championship. In the process of becoming a world championship rider, Sasaki took part in the inaugural Asia Talent Cup in 2014, clinching the title in the following year. He also first Japanese Champion in the RedBull MotoGP Rookies Cup in 2016. And a month later, SIC Racing Team announced at the Malaysian Grand Prix that the Japanese youngster would join the team for the 2017 campaign.
The same weekend held another surprise. The Gresini Moto3 team decided to substitute Sasaki for injured Enea Bastianini, which meant the Japanese teenager would be given the golden opportunity to get to know world championship racing. He qualified in 21st for his first Grand Prix, but during the race was involved in a crash at Turn 3. Although he could not complete the race, he nonetheless gained valuable experience.
“I don’t want an excuse for the results of that race. In fact, I gave everything during that weekend, and now I understood the difference between my level and Grand Prix riders. But I didn’t get depressed to see the gap at all. Actually, I felt relieved to know their level.”
Sasaki's years in the Asia Talent Cup, FIM CEV Repsol Junior World Championship, and RedBull Rookies Cup gave him vital experience to build himself up and prepare for the world championship. Sasaki explained that he had learned three important things in that period.
“The more I raced, the more I improved. And what I learned most in those days were the atmosphere of European races, the aggressiveness of European riders, and the importance of smart tactics to battle against them.”
The enthusiastic attitude of European riders was also a strong inspiration for Sasaki.
“They have a strong will, they have devotion, and they put their heart and soul into races and are never distracted by other things. I tried to follow those attitudes and immersed myself in them, and I suppose that carried me here to the world championship.”
Sasaki, disciplined, has no favorite rider.
“When I was riding pocket bikes as a child, all MotoGP riders were my idols, because they were very fast and they looked so cool. I still have great respect for them, but I don’t have idols or favorite riders anymore because I want to be stronger than anyone else. If you think 'I want to be like him' or 'I want to ride the bike like he does,' maybe you can get close to that level, but you will never go higher. That’s why I don’t have an idol or favorite rider now.”
With the 2017 season underway, Sasaki finished 11th in the season-opener in Qatar. In the following round in Argentina, where he had no experience at all, Sasaki finished 12th. Round 3, at the Circuit of the Americas, was a totally new experience as well. He finished the race in the 18th place on one of the most challenging tracks of the season.
“I had no experience on the tracks for these two races. In such ‘new’ venues, when you get off slower than others and are forced to stay in lower positions during Friday sessions, it's harder to climb back up. The other riders are improving consistently, so you cannot catch up with them unless you improve twice as much as they do.
“For the next race in Jerez, I have the experience there, and we also did a successful pre-season testing there. So my objective is getting a good result, at least like we did in Qatar. I know we need time. First, we set the target to finish within the top 10, then after achieving it, we will aim to finish in the top 5. If we can get a podium or win the race in the final part of the season, I would be very happy.”
In the Spanish Grand Prix, Sasaki finished 15th and scored one championship point. The Japanese rookie’s challenge on European soil has just begun.