Champion’s Story 3: Satoshi Motoyama (1998)
In 1997 in a JTCC race, Nissan driver Satoshi Motoyama fought for the title but came up short due to a well-documented incident. The 26-year-old “late-blooming driving sensation” Motoyama, who spent 6 years in F3, saw his karting rival Shinji Nakano step up into F1 and Toranosuke Takagi, who was 3 years Motoyama’s junior, labeled as the “top driver of the new generation.”
Motoyama’s parents ran a circuit in Akigase, where he started out racing miniature size pocket bikes. Afterwards, he made the move to karting, where he later raced professionally. Motoyama took home several hundred thousands-worth of Japanese yen in winnings a season. Because of this, the idea of paying money to get a drive racing cars was not something he considered. So, there were years in F3 in which Motoyama was not able to race a full season. After the bubble economy in Japan collapsed, he found himself not being able to drive for the most financially well-backed teams. In 1995, he was able to race with one of the top teams, Domu, where he came in 2nd that season.
The following year as a rookie, Motoyama drove for Aguri Suzuki’s new Formula Nippon team FUNAI SUPER AGURI. After the season got underway, Motoyama had tough finishes with the new team. At the midway point, came his long-awaited first podium. In the last race of the season, he showed his speed and garnered a front row start. In his 2nd season with the team however, things didn’t go as planned and he retired from several races.
Team LeMans, which had fought for the title several times to that point, brought Motoyama on as a driver. NISMO, apparently, didn’t want Motoyama’s career to end that way, so they pushed to get him that opportunity. And it paid off. At Mine Circuit in the 2nd race of the season, Motoyama won his first race. Then he won again in the next race at Fuji Speedway. And he won the season championship without waiting for the final race at Suzuka. His engineer at the time, Hiroyoshi Donuma, commented that “Motoyama was hungry, and worked hard on the set-up of the car. He didn’t just drop by the garage, he would follow-up with reports by email, and his comments at the circuit were spot on. I personally had worked to that point with foreign drivers, and Motoyama was just like working with one of them. The way he wanted his car set-up was extremely easy to get an image of.” “During races, he was the type of driver who didn’t overly cut the steering wheel and his use of tires was excellent. That is the impression I carry of him.”
This was just the beginning of the legend of this great champion. In 2000, Motoyama joined Kazuyoshi Hoshino’s Team Impul, where he won the championship in 2001, 2003, then again in 2005. He ended up winning the top category of racing in Japan a total of 4 times–an amazing feat. Like many other drivers who competed in Japan against him, world-class champions like Benoit Treluyer and Andre Lotterer, found Motoyama to be “the wall they tried to tumble.” Sacha Fenenstraz, who took the championship in F3 in 2019, openly says “my goal here in Japan is to be like Motoyama-san.”
Great champion Satoshi Motoyama won the season title some 4 times during his career as a driver in Japan’s top open-wheel category; had a total of 27 victories; and 20 pole positions to go along with those victories–a record no one has been able to break to this date.