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Foyt back at track with chance to win Indy

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A.J. Foyt became a legend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as much for throwing caution to the wind as for becoming the first four-time winner of the Indy 500.

Maybe that's why he's so fond of Takuma Sato.

The Japanese driver is in his first season with Foyt's team and will start on the outside of the sixth row in Sunday's race. And just like the owner of his modest program, Sato has built a rock star following in IndyCar with his dramatic moves, audacious passes and daring mentality.

``I go for it when I see if I can, and if there's a good chance, I definitely go for it, because that's racing,'' Sato said. ``But I think the 500 last year, it makes it pretty clear for the fans, if I'm given a chance, I'll go for it for sure.''

Sato certainly went for it last year.

He wound up talking about it after a visit to the infield care center.

Sato was driving for Rahal Letterman at the time, and trailing eventual winner Dario Franchitti down the front stretch. Sato knew the way his car was handling that his best chance was to try for the lead on Turn 1, so even though he was getting pinched, that's exactly what he did.

Sato kept going lower and lower until his left tires were in the grass, and he shot up the banking and into the outside wall. His car splintered on impact - he walked away without any injuries - while Franchitti was left alone to win his third Indianapolis 500.

``I've watched it a hundred times, maybe more,'' Sato said. ``I don't know. I think if there's a similar chance, I'd go for it, for sure.''

It's that kind of bravado that's made him such a fan favorite.

When Sato was introduced during the public drivers' meeting on Saturday morning along the front stretch, he drew one of the biggest cheers from a crowd bundled up against the chill. Asked why he was cheering for Sato, one fan replied, ``Because he went for it.''

``Well, dad always told me that it's easier to calm a hard-charger down than prod a guy that doesn't want to change,'' explained Larry Foyt, the team manager of A.J. Foyt Racing and the one most responsible for giving Sato a full-time ride this year.

``I think we knew he was a good race driver,'' the elder Foyt said, adding that he wanted someone who could bring a ``10th-place car home in 10th and a fifth-place car home in fifth.''

In other words, an aggressive driver who knows when to be aggressive.

Something that Sato is slowly beginning to learn.

``I think the obvious thing is if you keep wrecking A.J.'s race cars, you have to tell him,'' Larry Foyt said with a smile. ``It's a pretty calming effect on you.''

The unlikely pairing of Sato with the hot-tempered Texan has already paid off.

Sato is the points leader. He won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in just his third race with the new team, the first for Foyt's program since Airton Dare won at Kansas in 2002. It was also the first victory on a road or street course for the team since Foyt was behind the wheel in 1978 at Silverstone.

He was in contention at the next stop in Brazil, too, finishing to James Hinchcliffe.

The 78-year-old Foyt had to watch from afar because of a sciatic nerve. But he wouldn't miss returning to the Brickyard for anything, so he's been walking around gingerly as his two-car team - rookie Conor Daly is also in the field on Sunday - has prepared for this year's Indy 500.

``I've been up and down like a yo-yo. I've been on top, I've been zero-zero,'' Foyt said. ``It's great to see it's all been pulled together.''

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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