The 2012 Indianapolis 500 will always remain a special moment for Takuma Sato. It's special, not because of the dramatic last lap crash that cost him a chance to win, but because it represented so much of the hard work Sato has put into redefining himself as an IndyCar driver.
After years of marginal success in Formula 1, Sato traveled to the United States in 2010 to give IndyCar a try. It was a move that finally paid off in 2012 when he led his first laps in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and he has maintained that momentum to a successful 2013, picking up his first win at Long Beach, a near-win at Brazil and now a championship lead of 13 points entering the month of May.
The confidence that Sato often references was established at Indianapolis last season when he drove for Bobby Rahal but has only increased since joining AJ Foyt Racing.
It was the perfect off-season marriage with Sato looking for a competitive team to drive for and Foyt seeking an aggressive driver who had in his words -- the desire to win. Sato showed the aggression Foyt desired in last year's Indy 500 and both parties are hoping it translates into a win in two weeks.
Foyt won the Indianapolis 500 four times as a driver and once in 1999 as a car owner with Kenny Bräck -- the time since becoming a source of frustration for the driver-turned-owner known as "Big Tex."
Sato hasn't put a lot of thought about what winning at Indy for Foyt would mean but he has enjoyed spending time with his owner and hearing stories about his combined five victories at the Speedway.
"I really can't say how it would feel if we won the 500," Sato said. "I had a chance to spend some time with (AJ) over the winter and we talked about (a lot of) things. Sometimes, he would come back to his racing days and that was quite fun to hear because his time was so different and winning the 500 was so special.
"You go to the museum and they show his old winning cars and there was his picture hanging on the wall. It was history, and I'm really, really keen to hear those stories over the next two weeks."
While Foyt appreciates Sato's aggression, he has also talked to his driver about protecting the championship and just finishing the race if he doesn't have a car capable of winning the 500. Sato hasn't put a lot of thought into what makes that decision but says he'll know when the time comes.
"I think that now I've got enough experience to judge when the car's only third-quickest and finishing third is important," Sato said. "But when there is a chance, I'll never back off. So hopefully the 500 and the rest of the season count the same and hopefully we'll keep the championship because of it."