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The Beyonders Stories | Toyota Let's Go Beyond

OFENTSE PITSE

  • Born
    1 July 1992
  • Home Country
    South Africa
  • Occupation
    Conductor
  • Ofentse Pitse goes beyond barriers in music as South Africa’s first black female conductor.

  • Interviewer: We're all very interested to know what made you want to become a conductor?

     

    Ofentse

     

    What got me into conducting was my first introduction to music when I was 12 years old, growing up in the Salvation Army Church. I chose to play the trumpet, because I saw these guys at church playing this brass instrument, and I just wanted to be one of the boys.

     

    My mom dropped me off on Saturdays at church, and at the time I was taught how to play the C scale song from the C scale. I just got a liking for classical music. And then that evolved into my love of an orchestra, and my love of a choir. And that got me into wanting to be a conductor. So, it happened very organically.

     

    Interviewer: Nice. So, I just I saw an interview online where you said you've studied architecture before.

     

    Ofentse

     

    Typically, I'm an architect. Yes. Alright, an official architect.

     

    Interviewer: And what made you switch from architecture? Do you still appreciate architecture? Is this something that inspires you?

     

    Ofentse

    Definitely. Because when you look at architecture, it's not really far from music. We have such things as technique, we have balance, we have structure. All of these terms can be found in classical music. So, when I made the transition, it was gradual because everything that I was learning at school, I learned in music.

     

    Even my approach to a musical score. I look at where I enter, where I exit. Where is the most habitable space in the music? Where's the light coming, right? Where is the air coming? The ventilation? So, I literally look at the score as though it was a blueprint, a floor plan. Right. And that's what makes it really exciting to reinterpret, which is quiet and classical.

     

    It's really artistic and architectural, but that's how I build the music. By thinking of it as a structure.

     

    Interviewer: That's a very good off the cuff answer. So, what’s it like to conduct on the biggest stages of South Africa?

     

    Ofentse

     

    It's quite interesting because I'm a bit of a rebel in my approach to music, so I did not want to be like the classical conductors. I wanted to break the mold, and break the barriers a bit. And that's why you see that a lot of the work that I do, you'll find that I'm doing orchestral music, right? And then I'm featuring mainstream artists. So, my first show I featured an Afro jazz artist, Judith Suprema, and then I was looking at how you orchestrate for Tchaikovsky. But how do you make it jazz? Because the music is very jazz. That was an interesting challenge that I looked at, right? And then that evolved into me wanting the next big challenge. So, you won’t really find me in the theatre space. You'll find me with the masses looking at, how do we mix hip hop, how do we mix Beyonce and an orchestra? How do we mix jazz and an orchestra? How do you mix brands and an orchestra? That's the interesting, like juxtaposition, of the classical or the musical world with the art realm. So, it's always exciting. Like I have pieces of Lego all the time. I'm connecting these various things together.

     

    Interviewer: Why have you chosen Sibelius for today?

     

    Ofentse

     

    I chose Sibelius firstly, because of the hymn, Beast on my soul. The Lord is on my side. Right. So that was the hymn that I grew up listening to at church. When I first heard Sibelius, I was like, who's this arranger? Who's this orchestra? And then I got to find out it's actually the national pride of Finland. Each and every year before New Year's Eve, that’s the song that they perform or listen to. So, it's quite patriotic. Because of the nature of that, and the shoot today, I wanted something that allowed me to put my heart into it, you know, to accentuate my hands, to put feeling into the different movements and different themes of the song. That’s why I love Sibelius, because of the hymn.

     

    Interviewer: What is your daily routine like as a conductor?

     

    Ofentse

     

    My daily routine? I wake up at 5am, I take a nice jog, I come back home, I listen to Spotify music, so it’s not really classical, right? And then after that, I ease into my day. Most of the time I'll be doing architecture. But most recently I've been doing a lot of music stuff. I've gotten into orchestration and arrangements, so I'm continuously looking at different ideas, how to put different words together in terms of orchestration. And then somewhere between the day I'll take a nap and then wake up, get back into it. So, I'm very focussed when I get into the work that I do, especially music. I like to close everything off until I get the task done. But I'm a bit of an antisocial conductor, right? I can’t switch my mind off. So each and every time I'm thinking of the next grand idea. I have to put myself to sleep sometimes because I don't want to stop.

     

    Interviewer: That's very interesting. I see a lot of parallels with my profession as well as a creative though. Like when you create your own world.

     

    Ofentse

     

    Yes. You live in it. You wanna live in it.

     

    Interviewer: What are some of your career highlights so far?

     

    Ofentse

     

    My career highlights are breaking into unfamiliar territories. So, the first concert that I did, I collaborated with an Afro jazz artist. She's like the queen of Afro jazz in South Africa. So, that was the first show I did. And then after that, I did an event with the Champagne brand, Veuve Clicquot. Last year, they asked me to speak and then do a surprise performance with an orchestra. So, we did like a flashmob. The audience had no idea there was an orchestra, right. Then they came our from all different areas and we played the Veuve Clicquot theme song. I’ve also featured with an Afro tech house musician. I was dressed in like this very gothic outfit, dancing with the music. Really vibing to it.

     

    So, I’ve had a few highlights, especially last year. Most recently I did an event with the corporate brand, Bidvest. We combined this like, African orchestra. They wanted me to do a Coachella type of show. So, combining Beyonce's music and her performance at Coachella, but making it African. Getting your chorus, your Djun Djun drums, your Swaz drums - an entire African percussion.

     

    That was really exciting, because they were playing off the top of their heads, so they weren’t even looking at the music. Yeah, it was challenging, but it was interesting. That for me, was a highlight.

  • Interviewer: Exciting. So, we're developing a Toyota theme song as we speak, right?

     

    Ofentse

     

    I'm so excited. Yes, I would love to do that. High paced, high speed, you know, race league, especially looking at the car that we're shooting this week. I wanted to take it home. Yes, I would definitely love to do the theme song.

    Interviewer: Excellent. Great. Have there been any difficult moments in your journey and do you want to tell us about them?

     

    Ofentse

     

    Definitely. First of all, you don't find someone who looks like me, right? I am young. I'm female. And I'm black, right? So, in the beginning, when I would reach out to various conductors in South Africa, just seeking guidance, seeking to be mentored, most of them just said no. That was really, really sad, until I found Corbin Goodson, who took me under his wing and taught me everything he knows. But then there was also a few changes of access. It's hard to get access in this space because it's still very much male dominated. So, it's been hard for me to do my own grand shows with my entire orchestra, my entire choir. And then you also find at times, certain brands who promise you various things, but then when game time comes, they don't really deliver.

     

    So, I've had a few things that did not go right, but it mainly has to do with access, really. Because again, you don't see someone who looks like me. So, people are often like, oh, is she good enough? So, access is a huge, huge issue in my career.

     

    I am a young black female living in South Africa. In a very male dominated industry. I wanted to go way beyond the norm, beyond the status quo, beyond what people were expecting, so I created my own world. I curated experiences that other young people can be a part of and partake in. And those young people are mostly the people that I use in my orchestra. So, we are always going beyond anything and everything that we are part of, that we are.

    Interviewer: So, you've already answered the next question. How did you overcome these these hurdles? But I guess there’s maybe one more question that you could elaborate on it: What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career? Is there something that sticks out?

    Ofentse

    There is. I've learned in my career, especially as a conductor, how many people like your Instagram posts. You really need to practice and be good at what you do. It does not matter how many followers you have, but what you've done. So, that's what I've learned. And with that, it takes me away from looking at myself as just a female. I want to be one of the best conductors in the world beyond the, you know, the female aspect of it.

    Interviewer: You are a protagonist for me. You believe that you go beyond that every single year. Yes definitely, because to be where you are, to achieve what you have, you are beyond yourself.

    Ofentse

    Thank you very much.

    Interviewer: What's next for you? What's does success in your field look like to you now? Now that you've come so far?

    Ofentse

    Success looks like collaboration. I love collaborating with people that you would not normally see with an orchestra. Hence why I jumped on this campaign and I was like, oh, definitely bring it on. It’s not your norm being dressed in a tuxedo, you know, in Italian flat front pants and doing like an entire overture. This is really about speaking to the heart of the audience using orchestral music, which for me will always be to the heart, and go beyond and drive me. So, that for me, is really where looking to head. Collaborations with like minded people, you know, and people who also like breaking the barriers and going way above what people expect. Oh, and the Sydney Opera House

    Interviewer: Is that official yet?

    Ofentse

    No, just make it happen. Let's make it happen.

    Interviewer: Right. Well, it's on the cards.

    Ofentse

    You guys will do that behind the scenes. Like you will cover the whole thing. I mean, imagine just overlooking the shore, and the architecture of the city and then, you know, this acoustic. Like that for me will be magical. And then dressed in African attire, African regalia, maybe even doing African works, I don't know. But Sydney Opera House has to be my strongest.

    Interviewer: Is this where your architecture dreams and conductor dreams come together?

    Ofentse

    Exactly. Yes. Definitely. So you see how they connect? Not too far fetched.

    Interviewer: Do you have any advice for the people reading this interview on how to achieve their best. What does going beyond mean to you?

    Ofentse

    That's an important question. I would say preparation will always put you in the right places. I drive myself crazy with preparation. Even the piece that I did today. I ensure that I prepare right, because normally a conductor will conduct looking at a score and flip pages. But when you connect to the heart of the music, you don't need the score anymore, right?

    There was parts that I didn’t even know where I was, but because I could feel the pulse of the orchestra and also of the audience, even though my back is to them, I could feel that there's a certain excitement and a certain pulse back there, as with the people that are in front of me. So, I would always say that when you are prepared, you will always be in the right rooms.

    Interviewer: Very interesting. Yeah, I guess when you’re so prepared you become in that sort of a flow state. Where you notice a lot more things around you? Do you have a life motto that you live by or that keeps you motivated?

    Ofentse

    My motto in life is combining three words: Vision. Purpose. And legacy.

    Interviewer: Excellent. Great. What's the next big thing for you?

    Ofentse

    Sydney Opera House. Carnegie Hall. You know, then probably doing the ballet or conducting Beyonce. I don't know! I'm just really excited about the possibility that lies in front of me because, again, I stay prepared. So, I always trust that I'm good enough, beyond good actually, to get all these opportunities.

    I'm just always prepared for whatever great thing is to come. But I’m definitely looking at putting my own body of work out there and then looking at having some shows, whether it be in theatre spaces or whatever. But I like to collaborate with artists. So, that is the course for me.

    Interviewer: Yeah. Great. Because the campaign is all about every step counts, what every counts for you?

    Ofentse

    Okay, so it's every vision counts, every rehearsal counts, every applause counts, every intention counts, every member counts, every score counts.

     

        - END -

KEN BILLES

  • Born
    6 August 1980
  • Home Country
    France
  • Occupation
    Assistant Chief Designer
  • Ken Billes goes beyond design conventions, seeing cars as vectors that allow us to discover new things.

  • Interviewer: What made you want to become a car designer?

     

    Ken

     

    That's a very good question, and my first reaction is, why did I?

     

    I remember when I was a kid I loved to travel, but I'm not sure that's the only reason I wanted to be a car designer. It’s not so much the traveling that makes it interesting to me but what that brings to me. It’s that you discover things, and I think this is what really guides me into what I like every day; the discovery.

     

    And I like that the car helps people to discover new things and makes us communicate with other people and connect. I think actually for me, maybe the car is not so much the object itself, it’s more the trigger or the vector that allows people to get together and communicate and discover things. So, I think that's why I really wanted to become a car designer.

     

    Interviewer: So, what’s something that you’ve discovered through your journey?

     

    Ken

     

    I don't know if it's going to be a nice answer or not, but what I discovered when I started, for me was, I always saw the world as being something really linear and really established, but actually I discovered that it's basically chaotic and that there is nothing without a target.

     

    You’re setting up your target and the company have their goals, but you are kind of moving things together and nothing is established or straight. And that's pretty interesting. This was one of the biggest discoveries I made when I became a car designer. 

     

    Interviewer: Wow. Okay. I find that really interesting.

    What is it like to work on cars that are driven by millions of people?

     

    Ken

    It actually adds a lot of stress and pressure. Basically, with every product you make, if you’re not self-satisfied with it, it's hard, because you're going to see it everywhere.

    But then also people, when they buy the car, there’s something integral they like about it and they want to keep that feeling for a longer period. So, it's not just designing for this little moment where you decide you're going to own it, but also you have to think for the long distance. And that’s pretty hard. How do you make a product that can be accepted for everyone to keep for longer and is also good for the environment?

     

    So, it's not like, oh, everything around looks kind of dull or something, it has to be taken as a kind of a global approach. It's not just the object itself, but it's the way of living that goes with it that also matters. For this, we have to act a little bit and put ourself into the customer wishes or their life, which is actually quite interesting.

     

    Interviewer: Alright. You talk about the long lasting journey of a car, but buying a car is an emotional decision. What hooks people in?

     

    Ken

    It's the looks. It's also the spirit or the atmosphere you feel with the product.

     

    Some products, you look at and have a sensation, a feeling. And the message, it's clear. You can remember the conversation, maybe with a high context and low context. A car has less than a minute to provide the message to the customer. That makes it very interesting, because you can have a clear message, but you can also have some messages that you discover over time.

     

    Interviewer: I think that's a very interesting idea. So, as a car designer, I'm sure you're able to spot cars that are maybe a little bit superficial and there's not a lot of layers to discover. They're kind of like doing the bare minimum, but maybe there are some other cars that you get to know.

     

    Ken

     

    In a way, they all have a story actually, like movies.

     

    I like when you watch a movie, you have the main story, and then you have side stories. I think for a design you have the same. Each car has its own story, each car has its own message. Some messages are more blended, some messages are more clear, but they're all targeted to a particular special type of customer.

     

    So, when you have family, for example, you're probably not going to go for a super shiny car. If you're more like a personality and you really want to express yourself, then you're going to find something that has more expression to it; a car that expresses the message of who you are and what you want.

     

    So, not so much of a status car, more of an expression, let’s say.

     

    Interviewer: As a car designer, what is your daily routine? 

     

    Ken

     

    As a car designer, my routine would be, okay…I come into work and I would first see what's new in the world or discuss with my neighbour or colleagues to find out where we are going and kind of rethink the world a little bit.

     

    Then I would go into more of the working process, which is kind of established. We think about a customer, we project ourself and the customer, and then we question ourself, what are we doing? Is that really what they want or is that just us that wants to do that?

     

    And so, kind of discover in the morning, get in touch with everyone, exchange and get everyone's feedback and personality into what we are doing. It’s very important to work as a team to get everybody's opinions, because you tend to be blinded.

     

    Why is exchanging with others such an important routine?

     

    Interviewer: Because immediately, once you see what's going on in the world, it’s already a very interesting way to start your day. Obviously you're designing for the world like you have a mass; you talk about an audience, you design for an audience, but it may sometimes be difficult to put yourself into their shoes because on one hand, you design for a big audience, but there's many different types of people within it, right?

     

    So, I guess you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes? 

     

    Ken

     

    Yeah, we have to get in their shoes, but also we have to get into the shoes of the people of tomorrow, which is not easy. Especially in Europe. We live in a kind of a chaotic period. As a designer, I always think we're still living a dream of the eighties, but we have to create a new vision of the future.

     

    For this vision, we need to exchange with a lot of people. We can propose another vision and a new direction for something, or just an evolution of the current one, but I think this exchange is super important. Whether it's just in the morning or if it's with a long distance perspective.

     

    I think it's very important for that. Having the routine really helps bring that together to create the new vision we’re all looking for. Yeah. So, your research in a way, is really built into your work. You're doing your research, but also with your peers as well.

     

    I think that's probably one of the most important aspects too, about the work of a designer.

     

    Interviewer: What are some of your career highlights? 

     

    Ken

     

    I’ve been pretty lucky. I could choose many from the work presented. Maybe I could do a list? I don't know if it's what you're looking for, but I had a chance to work on some cars that are actually already oriented about like an eco-friendly proposal like FT CH. I also worked on the first generation of C-HR. 

     

    I participated in the production evolution of that. I also got to work on the Eagle Cross, and then more recently, the next generation of C-HR. A cool highlight so far. I think also, maybe like the work, the work process or the work atmosphere is also something that’s a big highlight in the studio.

     

    I've been working for Toyota for 15 years and I think, thanks to the effort we made to change the way we work, or the way we exchange, or the way we see our office, we managed to create a new identity or a stronger message, a stronger product in the design field for Toyota. So, now we have what I like to call, the creative hub in Unity Square. We get people to come to MC conferences in our studio every three months, and they come from all different types of fields.

     

    Sometimes it's creative, sometimes it's engineering. And then we train. We tend to keep our doors open to have a lot of exchange with different fields, to grasp ideas and confer with different people to see if what we're doing, what we're thinking, is valuable or not. So, I think that's a big shift and I think that's kind of a strong point of what our studio has become.

     

    Interviewer: That's a good answer. It kind of already answers some of the questions that we have here. Could you maybe elaborate on what else inspires you?

     

    Ken

     

    I think one thing I’ve discovered in Toyota is that it's very difficult to let a very simple idea go through; but it’s also something they really appreciate.

    It's when you always try to keep your idea living and push to get it through, in a nice way of course. You don't need to be brutal or anything. But they like it if you're convinced about something and you push hard and try to find different ways to get it through. Then they know, this idea is very valuable.

     

    And I think that this philosophy from a company is pretty nice, and interesting.

     

    Interviewer: And it's already somehow the idea of ‘going beyond’, isn't it? Because you need to push an idea through and there's many different ways you can do it by just letting it sit for a while and then going back to it.

     

    Ken

     

    I think this really helps us to go beyond the ideas. The first idea is usually a no go, so we go beyond it and really push the idea. We realise at the end, most of the time, when it's valuable.

  • Interviewer: Excellent. So, you need to believe in your idea?

     

    Ken

    Yeah, you sometimes need to let it go as well.

    I see a lot of this obviously, as creative director. It’s like you have a big idea, but that idea can live in many different ways. So, by all means get attached to the idea, but not necessarily to the execution of it. It could have many different forms.

     

    Interviewer: So, what’s the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?

     

    Ken

    I think it's that there is no wrong answer. I mean, ideas are often rejected, but not because they're wrong. They're just rejected because they don't fit or they're not appropriate at that time. And sometimes it’s just that we use them for other stuff. But I like the idea that there is no wrong answer, it's just a wrong execution sometimes, or there's just a little bit missing.

    And I like the idea of basically trying all the time to really push it to get the best out of it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of proportion. Sometimes it's a matter of some finish. Sometimes it's more about the execution of it. Maybe you need to be more precise or more into the product and really refine it. Maybe sometimes you just basically have to be more maniac about what you're doing.

    So really go to town on the detail. Even if no-one will see it at the end. I think this makes a great product. 

     

    Interviewer: Excellent. What does success in your field look like to you?

     

    Ken

    The easy answer is when your drawing is selected, because of what goes into that. It’s selected because you listen to people and you get people on board with you.

    The success is not so much related to being selected, but due to the fact that you get all your team, all the people you're working with to understand and agree with you to what you think is right. So, I think that for me is the biggest success. It's not necessary to have the product outside. It's to get everyone on board and agree to your vision

    It all comes down to the teamwork. I wouldn't be able to do it on my own.

    I'm working with the team in a collaborative way and I think that's why it works so well together.

     

    Interviewer: Do you have any advice for the people reading this interview on how to achieve their best?

     

    Ken

    I think my advice would be, never give up and don't be stubborn. They’re two different things.

     

    Interviewer: That's where the listening comes in, right? It’s easier to hold on to that one idea you think is best if you keep on listening and incorporating the feedback?

    And then you get what counts. Exactly. And that's how you go beyond, by never giving up.

    It may be worth discussing the inspiration around the vehicle and what sort of person you find important to you?

     

    Ken

    Can I mention the gender fluidity stuff as it’s appropriate again anyway? I’ll tell you a story about the project and why this design is like this. So basically, when we started that project the next year, we didn't start from a blank sheet.

    We already had a giant, successful car on the market, which was the first generation C-HR. So, first thing on the brief is, how do we keep that amazing product property and also make it a new product. This was pretty difficult. We had part of a legacy to keep. And also, as the world is changing, people's aspirations are also changing.

     

    So, we wanted to do something that is more, I don't want to say inclusive or universal, but is okay for everyone, not polarising. And then on the marketing side, we've got this very nice teamwork, where you get a business trip to Berlin and Stockholm to discover different types of people, different types of gender, and also different types of community, mainly the LGBTQI community.

    We discover that this community don't care what people think of them. What they like is to create, and they’re a little bit like designers. They just like to do what they love. And it doesn't matter if it makes other people unhappy. That's not their aim. But they’re looking for something where they can really express themself and kind of be themselves.

    But they're also very gentle. They're not aggressive in their way. This is part of the subtlety of their personality. This is what kind of makes the new car. It's kind of very crisp and edgy, but on the other side, it's very smooth and fluid and gentle. It's aggressive and gentle at the same time. 

     

    I think this is probably why this proposal was selected. Of course, it has this very strong stance. It has everything that the previous C-HR had, but it has a new philosophy. When you see the car, you really feel its urban aggressiveness. But on the other hand, it's very smooth and sleek and it can be very fluid and go through the city without annoying anyone.

    But you still instantly recognise it; see it and perceive it. So, I think this is kind of a dual aspect of the car, which was actually pretty hard to find. That’s the C-HR story.  

    Every opinion counted on this project. This was a key aspect. Every personality, even. I think every team member on that project really counted.

    I think everyone made a difference. It's the product of a team. Every opinion counted a lot and meant we really tried to push the ideas that weren't acceptable by Toyota at that point.

    Do you have a life motto that you live by, or that keeps you motivated?

    Actually, I do have one. I think it was an Indian phi

     

    It's maybe easy to say, but I think the world is really what you think it should be. If you think like that, it really becomes what it is. It means you could almost be anyone if you want. But also, the world is made of what you think it is, it's not a static thing.

    That's pretty interesting. I think it's something I always keep in my mind. 

     

    Interviewer: What's the next big thing for you? What's on the cards? 

     

    Ken

    Holidays. You know, I think I said it earlier. For me, my next really big thing, I think, is to create something where basically, I have a feeling that I will leave something to my kids.

    There is a lot of talk about there being less resources, global warming and so on. I think all this is a problem. But basically as a designer, I want to try to find a solution for that. And for me, this solution comes with the idea of finding a new imagery of what tomorrow could be.

    And this imagery has to be bringing people together to accept it. There are already tons of product that could save the planet, but nobody wants them, so they don't work. We need to find something which people want to have; a new vision they want to be part of. And I think this is something I'm working on quite a lot with interns. It’s for me, the next really big, new thing.

    It's a mind shift, isn't it? We still live in a world that was created in people's heads in the eighties or nineties and this world is okay. The world of machine is a world of, you know, like Star Wars. But of course it’s changed. This is not going to be the future.

    It's going to take time, but we need to find, and we need to try. But just saying we need to find it, is not enough. We need to try harder. And if it doesn't work, move on to something else. But we have to try it again and again until we find that good answer.

     

    Interviewer: What steps count most in your life as a car designer? 

     

    Ken

    For me, every learning counts and also, every discovery counts. I love to discover things and somehow, maybe because I'm getting slightly old, everything doesn't need to be made in one go.

    So, I would say every step counts.

     

    -END-

KAZUKI NAKAJIMA

  • Born
    11 January 1985
  • Home Country
    Japan
  • Occupation
    Vice-chairman at Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe
  • Kazuki Nakajima goes beyond limits, believing in “naseba naru” - “you get out, what you put in”.

  • Interviewer: What made you want to become a driver?

     

    Kazuki

    My father was the main reason for me wanting to be a racing driver; he raced cars. When I was a kid, he was still racing professionally in Formula One. So for me, motor racing was the closest sport I had. Even though I'm very much into baseball, football, and most other sports, really. I loved the competition. Motor racing was the first proper competition I was entered into.

     

    I started my career when I was ten years old, go kart racing. So, it’s nearly 30 years now. It's been a long journey.

     

    Interviewer: What is it like to be a driver in the 24 hours of Le Mans?

     

    Kazuki

    Well, it's not so easy to describe in a sentence, but Le Mans 24 hours is little bit like how the Olympic Games is for other sports, because the race is only once a year.

     

    Normally in racing, you are more focused on the championship itself, but Le Mans is a special place, so we put a lot of focus on this one race. Although, of course the championship is important, winning Le Mans is just as important. So basically, we tend to say, that as soon as we finish Le Mans, we start our preparation for next year.

     

    The effort we put in is much bigger compared to any other race.

     

    Interviewer: Would you describe it as you're going beyond?

     

    Kazuki

    I would say that, yes. It’s my biggest goal throughout my career. That's for sure.

     

    Interviewer: Okay. What was your daily routine as a driver?

     

    Kazuki

    When we’re not driving, it’s all about thinking through the details; what we could do for the next race. We have a lot of meetings with the engineers, going through the data. Also, we do a lot of training; physical training as well as mental training. So, it’s basically all about preparation for the next race.

    It’s a constant effort to try and improve things; to understand the car, to understand driving and how we can go faster. Yeah, the effort to try and find any detail which could make us better. That’s our routine as a race driver.

     

    Interviewer: Okay, so what are some career highlights for you, so far?

     

    Kazuki

    My career highlight has to be my first victory in Le Mans 24 hours in 2018.

     

    Yeah, simply the best moment in my career. There had been some good highlights before, like winning the Super Formula Championship in Japan, and racing in F1 was also special, but winning Le Mans after our seventh challenge, I think. It had been a long journey to achieve this victory. There had been a lot of difficult moments beforehand. So yeah, going through these challenges and achieving something so big is definitely my career highlight.

     

    Interviewer: If you had to say what counted most to achieve this victory, what would it be? 

     

    Kazuki

    I’d have to say, every experience counted, which means good or bad, even mistakes. I think every experience was a useful step. It's all about putting in the effort to find the improvement. So, every effort counts. Then I would say, every moment counts, to which I mean step. We talk about the Le Monde 24 hours; every moment is important, and it will be over if you miss one step. The race will be gone. Even in the preparation process.

     

    Interviewer: Like, every second counts?

     

    Kazuki

    I would say every judgment counts, maybe because racing is all about judging basically, between the risk and reward you can take. So, maybe every judgment, in every moment counts.

     

    Interviewer: What has been your most difficult moment?

     

    Kazuki

    Hmm…I think I’ve had many difficult moments throughout my career, but obviously the biggest, probably the most well known, was Le Mans 2016. We were winning the race up until five minutes to the checkered flag, and leading comfortably. We were all set for our first victory, but suddenly, because of mechanical failure, we lost the race.

    That was the most difficult; a tragic moment. But at the same time, as I’ve said, it's all about learning from experience. And in this sense, I have to say, it was kind of a game changer for our team; to ready ourselves for our first victory two years later.

     

    Interviewer: How did you overcome this moment? How do you continue to train and not give up on your big vision and targets?

     

    Kazuki

     

    The first thing really, is to not give up. This is what we need to keep in our heart to overcome the difficulty. It's important to learn from experience but also to try to take out the positive in this difficult situation. In 2016 of course, we lost the race, but if you look at the race itself, we were doing well.

     

    Nobody made a mistake from our side. Everything was going smooth. We just missed the little bit of luck and the reliability of the car to complete the victory. So, I think all the team took the positives from this race, to basically build up our confidence for the next.

     

    And because of this confidence, we could keep our motivation and we could yeah, face the next challenge, without losing any momentum. This is something we all learned from. Luckily we had the chance to continue our program, thanks to Toyota.

     

    Interviewer: So how do you think Toyota is different from other automotive companies? How does Toyota distinguish itself? 

     

    Ken

    Hmm…I think the company’s strong point is that they really try to listen to the customer, but they also listen to the people inside the company. They understand that the people inside the company are also customers, and that's pretty interesting.

    I think most companies would just listen to the customer, but maybe less, the people who work there.

  • Interviewer: That's an interesting point. Has there been a difficult moment in your career, designing a car for instance?

    Ken

    It's a little bit of what I said before. Sometimes nobody really understands your idea or sees its true value. Then what you have to do is to try and find a way to tell the same story in a different way, or find another way to present it, or of course, adapt it.

    That, I think, is maybe what ‘go beyond’ means. The idea of not letting it go and trying to convince people what you think is correct. It doesn't mean you stubbornly won't listen. Sometimes they just don't understand on first glance, what you're trying to do. This has happened many times actually, that you present stuff and it's rejected, so you would present it in a different way.

    Suddenly, people would love it, because they understand it. And I think this is really what is interesting; this approach of how to tell the same story in a different way. 

    I have to say thanks to everyone who has been supporting our program. We cannot forget that without support we are nothing. As long as there is opportunity, I think we have a chance to be successful. This is key really; to just keep trying, keep challenging. And of course yeah, to just challenge doesn't mean everything. You have to do all the preparation, to put the effort in to improve.

    Interviewer: What does success look like to you? 

    Kazuki

    Obviously, throughout my race career, winning Le Mans, winning the championship, it's the easiest way to describe success.

    But now, in my different role, it's maybe slightly different. I think it has bigger meaning. The success is not only about winning, but also about developing young talent and trying to expand the fan base for motor racing. It’s about finding a way that motor racing can contribute on a bigger scale to the world; not only delivering the excitement of the sport, but there’s also so many things that we can contribute to development of the car or the new technology.

    I think there's so many things that motor sports can do for our future. So pushing motorsport in this direction is also my goal for success. It's not an easy thing to achieve, but it's something that I'm looking forward to. Interviewer

    Okay, thank you. Do you have any advice for the people reading this interview on how to achieve their best? And what does ‘going beyond’ mean to you?

    Kazuki

    I think going beyond means it's all about your experience and every little step counts. I think the motivation is to keep moving forward. That's definitely something you need. Learning from the experience you go through, even the mistakes. It’s exploring new things. That’s something you definitely need to do to go beyond. Otherwise, you are always stuck in the same position.

    Interviewer: Thank you. Okay, do you have a motto in life ? And does it keep you alive and motivated? 

    Kazuki

    Yeah, it’s a short Japanese phrase; naseba naru. I had to think hard to find the right words for translation, but it roughly means: if you try something, this will give you some output. But if you don't try anything, you will not get any output from there. Japanese is a very compact language. This is a phrase that I always keep in my mind, even if it leads to mistakes.

    Kazuki

    The important point is if you can learn from the mistake. If you can’t, you will not have a very long career. This is key for racecar drivers, but also a lesson we can all take into our lives. 

    Interviewer: Perfect. What’s the next big thing for you?

    Kazuki

    I think I already touched on it. Since my career has changed from being purely a race driver, to a wider role as part of the race team management, one of my goals is to still to win races and the championship. That's for sure. Another is to develop younger talent and try to, I'd say, attract more younger drivers, especially into Toyota. To grow the value of motorsport overall.

    Not only delivering the excitement to the fans, but I also believe, there's so many things that we can push and develop with new technology. And since carbon neutrality is a big topic now, not only in the automotive industry, I think there's so many things that motorsport can contribute to the future of the world through the development of new technology.

    I could talk much more about this. The goal is very big and very far away maybe, but ultimately this is my challenge now. 

    Interviewer: We are coming to the end of this interview. The last question is: If you were to describe three important steps in your beyond journey, what would they be?

    Kazuki

    I would say every try counts, every mistake counts. But also every effort counts to go beyond.

    I think it's the fact that we all understand that each other is putting their best effort into their job as a team. You need that team behind you to go beyond. It's not all about the driver. As a driver we know that our engineers, our mechanics, even our truckies, everybody involved in the team is doing their best. It’s the best kind of energy as a team to move forward. It’s the sum of all that, that takes you beyond.

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