Takuma Sato's car spins in the first turn after he tried to pass leader… (Bill Friel / Associated…)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Who is Takuma Sato and how did he come within two miles of nearly winning the Indianapolis 500?
Sato might not be familiar to some Americans, but the 35-year-old Japanese driver is an experienced racer, in the Izod IndyCar Series and before that in Formula One.
And he very nearly made headlines nationwide when he tried to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the final lap of the Indy 500 on Sunday.
But as Sato slipped inside Franchitti on the first turn of the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sato ran out of room for a clean pass as Franchitti gave him only so much space.
Sato then lost control, his car spun and he slammed into the outside wall, bringing out the yellow flag that froze the field and handed Franchitti his third Indy 500 victory.
"I thought I had the job done," Sato said. "But he kept pushing and didn't give me enough room. I was almost in the [infield] grass and the car started sliding.
"I was hoping that coming out of Turn 1 side by side with Dario, we would take the lead going to Turn 2 and Turn 3," he said. "It didn't work out that way, though."
If Sato had seized the lead and held it, he would have become the first Japanese driver to win the legendary race.
Sato, now in his third IndyCar season and still looking for his first series victory, is driving for a team whose owners include Bobby Rahal, who won the Indy 500 in 1986, and television personality David Letterman.
Sato's car was strong throughout Sunday's race. He led 31 of the 200 laps and was right on Franchitti's tail in second place as they took the white flag for the final lap and Sato made his ill-fated move.
Franchitti, the reigning IndyCar champion, "could have given a little bit more space and we could have come out of the corner no problem," said Sato, who ultimately finished 17th.
But Franchitti, 39, who drives for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, hasn't won his three Indy 500s and four series championships overall by making it easy for rivals to pass him.
In this case, "I thought it was a good move until the mistake [Sato] made — I guess he got loose," Franchitti said.
"I watched the replay on TV. He lost the rear [of the car] on the way in" to the corner. "I kept my foot in [the throttle] and that was it."
Franchitti added that Sato is "very aggressive" and that "he thought that this was his chance" to win the Indianapolis 500. "I mean, why not?"