May 24, 2016 / 10:06 PM / a year ago

Sato craves Indy 500 win to help heal Japan

May 17, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; IndyCar Series driver Takuma Sato poses for the traditional photo with his car after qualifying for the 2014 Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO (Reuters) - Takuma Sato has been passionate about helping those impacted by the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan in 2011 and now, days away from the Indianapolis 500, he has another idea on how to help those affected.

Sato, who famously came close to winning the Indy 500 in 2012, feels that winning what he considers the pinnacle of racing on Sunday would give some measure of cheer to the tens of thousands left homeless from the disaster.

"I was very passionate to help but how can I help? Not just financially but also to bring some energy to this cause," the A.J. Foyt Racing driver told Reuters on Tuesday.

"So if I can win the 500 it would be massive and of course it's a great personal goal so I'd love to take it."

The 39-year-old driver, who founded the "With you Japan" programme in 2011 to help children affected by the disaster move forward with their lives, qualified 12th for Sunday's race in Indiana and will start in the fourth row.

The Japanese sensation got off to a fast start after joining A.J. Foyt Racing in 2013, needing only three races under his new boss to become the first Japanese driver to claim an IndyCar win, but he has not been unable to replicate the feat as opportunities passed him by.

However, his most notable near-miss came during the final lap of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 when he spun out while attempting an inside pass on race leader Dario Franchitti going into Turn 1.

Sato, who recounts with great detail the closing laps of that race as if it happened yesterday, challenged Franchitti low in the turn but lost control as the cars touched and was swiftly sent into the wall.

He has great respect for Franchitti and said that at the time his first priority was to avoid a crash, an approach he has since changed.

"I have to secure myself to be in my best position," said Sato. "If people come down for the defence, well, end of the day by all means."

The Japanese will start 12th on Sunday after recording a four-lap average of 228.029 miles per hour (366 kph) at the 2.5 mile (4 km) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

"I'm very happy to in 12th place and fourth row. From there we can work on it bit by bit, and what's most important is lap 200 on Sunday evening," said Sato. "I'm ready for the challenge."

Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes

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