Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti weren’t among the top five in the championship standings heading into the 2012 Indianapolis 500. Ditto for 2011 and ’10.
But following form of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ first quarter -- in which there have been three different winners in four races, but none from stalwarts Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and 15 drivers with at least one top-five finish -- the veterans are 1-2 in points.
Sato, driving the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing, backed up his maiden IZOD IndyCar Series victory at Long Beach on April 21 with a runner-up finish to James Hinchcliffe in the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle on May 5. Andretti recorded his second third-place finish of the season and fourth top seven in as many races in the No. 25 RC Cola car for Andretti Autosport.
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Sato holds a 13-point lead with Indianapolis, where last May his final-lap “no attack, no chance” attempt to overtake Dario Franchitti for the lead went awry, on the horizon. The last time Foyt's team led the INDYCAR standings was in 1998 when Kenny Brack won the series title.
“This team is really doing a fantastic job,” team director Larry Foyt said. “Takuma is driving just amazingly. Obviously, this is a long month and anything can happen, but it's always a positive to have good momentum going into Indy.”
Added four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and team founder A.J. Foyt: “You always like to be leading the points regardless of where you're going. But we’ve just got to come out of there with a bigger lead in points.”
That, of course, will be difficult with another stout field attempting to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Franchitti and Helio Castroneves, who are aiming for their record-tying fourth victories, and Andretti, who has a trio of top-three finishes in his seven runs on the 2.5-mile oval, are among the early favorites.
“We have some good momentum going and we’ve always run well at Indianapolis,” Andretti said. “Obviously, it's a totally different ballgame being an oval. We just have to get a good race car there. If we can’t win, get another good result and keep the points going.”
Andretti Autosport teammate Hinchcliffe jumped to fourth in the standings with his victory by .3463 of a second and also has momentum going to Indianapolis, where he started second and finished sixth last May.
“The joke is that we’ve won every race we’ve finished. If we can keep doing that, we’ll be all right,” said Hinchcliffe, whose victories at St. Petersburg and Sao Paulo sandwiched DNFs at Barber and Long Beach. “Heading into the ovals, Andretti Autosport had competitive cars at Indy last year. We improved over the winter. Obviously, everyone else will have as well. If we can keep our momentum up, a day like today proves that when things aren't necessarily going your way, if you keep fighting, don't give up, you can end up on top.”