Auto Racing: Sato sets IndyCar points pace as 500 looms

Japan's Takuma Sato, a last-lap crash victim while battling for the lead in last year's Indianapolis 500, comes back this year with a historic victory and the IndyCar season points lead.

Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race when he captured the title last month at Long Beach and the former Formula One racer finished second earlier this month at Brazil to seize the season points lead.

"Every single event is counting for the confidence," Sato said Tuesday. "It is very impressive the team's really ramping up rapidly. It's just managing a team really well. So that's starting to show the performance.

"At Long Beach it was the perfect race. No one made a mistake and no bad luck at all and Brazil was one of the most exciting races we ever had. I was obviously disappointed being second, but still it's a great satisfaction. To be able to be leading a championship after Brazil is an extra bonus for me."

Sato has 136 points, 13 ahead of US racer Marco Andretti with Brazil's Helio Castroneves 20 points back and Canada's James Hinchcliffe fourth on 112.

But now the focus shifts to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Saturday's pole day qualifying on the famed 2 1/2-mile (4km) oval where a 33-car field will compete over 200 laps in the 97th Indy 500 on May 26.

Last year, Sato was chasing Scotsman Dario Franchitti in the first turn of the final lap and went low on the inside, losing control and spinning into the outer wall as Franchitti sped away for the victory.

Sato, who was not injured, settled for 17th.

"Really the 500 last year is just unforgettable day for me," Sato said. "It was special and spectacular show. I was disappointed with the result, but still it was just tremendous support from the team and I had a great experience.

"It was a special feeling and in particular after the hard race, when we come back to the garage, hundreds of fans waited and cheered me big time."

This year, Sato wants that one last lap and a checkered flag finish.

"We are here aiming to win the 500. So there is no reason why we cannot," Sato said. "We've been showing solid performance on the last two days in testing and hopefully we continue the progress and we'll be competitive."

And Sato says he will not be any less likely to make another risky move on the last lap if there is a chance to take the lead again this year.

"When there is a chance, then I never back off," Sato said. "My first focus is to win the 500 and win the (season) championship. Still I'm on the way. I just achieved just one first win and the stepping up the stair."