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Honda THANKS DAY Draws Big Crowd of Fans, Racing Stars To Honor Sato, Admire Borg-Warner Trophy

Just a week after the Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated in the United States, Honda Japan honored its drivers, including 2017 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil winner Takuma Sato, at the Honda Racing THANKS DAY Sunday at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.

The event ran from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. local time, and more than 20,000 fans came to the facility that hosted Indy car racing, including CART and the Verizon IndyCar Series, from 1999 to 2011.

Front and center for the day was the Borg-Warner Trophy as it continues its first trip outside of the United States. Sato is the only driver from Japan whose face is on that trophy after he won the 101st Indianapolis 500 in a thrilling finish May 28.

According to Borg-Warner representative Steve Shunck, from the time the Borg-Warner Trophy was assembled at 6:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. when the event ended there a constant stream of fans coming by to take photos and ask about the trophy. The viewing area behind the ropes was three to four people deep and 25 people wide, with the crowd swelling to even bigger proportions during an early-afternoon ceremony with Sato and BorgWarner Inc. Vice President of Marketing Scott Gallett.

Because this is the first time the iconic Indianapolis 500 winner’s trophy has left the United States, there were questions from those who had never seen it, such as, “Is it real?” “How does it go from place to place?” “Does Takuma get to keep it?”

“We were so happy getting the first Honda driver's face on the Borg-Warner Trophy,” said Michiro Asaka of Honda, the man who brought Honda into Indy car racing in 1994 in CART and the Indianapolis 500. “There are now so many great Honda drivers represented over the years.

“I am very proud of our success in racing and at Indianapolis. It was not always easy, but we worked very hard to reach our goals. We are very honored the trophy came to Japan. It is historic, and all the fans and media can't believe they get to see it with their own eyes today. I have seen it many times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but I never, never thought I'd see it in Japan and at Twin Ring Motegi. 

“This is a special, special day for all of us to share and remember.”

Sato took some demonstration laps in his Honda that won the Indianapolis 500. He spoke to the massive crowd and said: “It is an honor to bring my winning Indianapolis 500 car to Japan. The Borg-Warner Trophy has traveled outside the United States for the first time ever to visit us in Japan. Today is a special day that I hope we can all share together.”

Sato was the centerpiece competitor of the 30 or so other Honda racers from throughout the world that also included former Formula One driver Jenson Button, reigning MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez and longtime MotoGP standout Dani Pedrosa.

Button came by the garage in the morning and wanted to see the three faces belonging to Dario Franchitti for his three Indy 500 victories.

“That is one amazing trophy,” Button said. “There are so many of my friends’ faces on it and so many Formula One drivers who won at Indy, too. Neat to see Dario and his three silver faces, and look at Takuma – what a proud smile.”

Marquez called it a trophy “worth winning.”

“That is one big trophy,” Marquez said. “So cool. I like the history it represents at a great track, Indianapolis. It is nice to see Takuma with all the other winners.”

Said Pedrosa, who won the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in 2010 and 2012: “Wow, I like that trophy. I wish I won that for winning my races racing at Indianapolis.”

The “official unveil” of the trophy took place at 2 p.m. with Gallett and Sato.

"It was my first time at the Honda Racing THANKS DAY,” Gallett said. “To see all the Honda Motor Sports drivers, cars, motorcycles and fans in one place at the same time makes it truly unique.

“Everywhere the Borg-Warner Trophy goes, it attracts attention. The fans at the event brought this to a new higher level. They gathered to see the trophy in person non-stop all day long, taking pictures and just staying to be in the presence of the iconic trophy on its first trip to Japan.

“Takuma Sato thanked BorgWarner and Honda repeatedly throughout the day, and we could see the true joy on his face. BorgWarner was proud to help make the day more special for Takuma Sato and Honda. It was a very historical event."

On a day when Honda honored its big names in international racing, the driver with the greatest accomplishment was Sato.

“Today has been amazing, one of the most special days of my life,” Sato said. “I want to thank Honda and BorgWarner for all they have done to make today great.

“Honda Racing THANKS DAY is about the fans and all their passion and loyalty. It was historic for the Borg-Warner Trophy to leave the United States for the very first time ever and come to Japan. It makes us all proud.

“I have been very fortunate to spend so many years with Honda, and to win the Indianapolis 500 with them has been a dream. I love the Indianapolis 500 and the Borg-Warner Trophy and to share my win and the trophy here in Japan has been something I will never forget!

“I have had a big smile all day through all the events. Running laps in my Indy-winning car today in front of all the happy fans was a thrill. I loved the cheers and appreciate their support. I am a happy, smiling man like the man on the Borg-Warner Trophy."

The Borg-Warner Trophy will continue its first trip outside of the United States for another week. The iconic trophy arrived in Japan on Nov. 30 for a variety of functions, including Honda Racing THANKS DAY.

Up next in the Borg’s travels are stops at a BorgWarner plant in Nabari, an NSK Warner plant in Fukuroi, a function at Honda World Headquarters in Tokyo and at two Sato events in Tokyo before heading back to the U.S. on Dec. 12.

*Photo credit: Borg-Warner

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