INDIANAPOLIS – Five years ago, Takuma Sato saw victory at the Indianapolis 500 slip through his grasp.
Today, the driver who lives by the motto “no attack, no chance” took hold of opportunity and never let go. Sato won the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil by 0.2011 of a second over three-time winner Helio Castroneves. It is Sato’s second Verizon IndyCar Series win — the other coming at Long Beach in 2013 — and goes down as the sixth-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.
“Unbelievable feeling,” said Sato, who becomes the 71st driver to win the storied race. “I cannot thank this whole team (enough). Look at these guys. Fantastic. It was obviously a tough, tough race, but Helio really drives fair. I can trust him. I can really (trust him) coming from the outside. It was fantastic race. What a race. Hopefully the crowd enjoyed it.”
Sato spun in 2012 while attempting to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead in Turn 1 on the 200th lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Today, he redeemed himself, setting a career-defining moment.
“This time I was pointing in the right direction, wasn’t I?” he said, referring to the 2012 incident that put him into the SAFER Barrier. “It’s beautiful. I dreamed of something like this since I was 12. I can’t thank everyone enough for their support.”
Following a Lap 189 restart where he was third, Sato battled his way forward and traded the lead with Castroneves in the waning laps before passing the three-time winner at the yard of bricks to start Lap 196. Despite multiple overtaking attempts by Castroneves, Sato held his ground and took the checkered flag.
“Until three laps to go, you really didn’t know,” Sato said. “Me and Helio went side by side with three laps to go. You’ve got to go for it, run it flat. And we did it, and we pulled away. Fantastic.”
Rookie Ed Jones (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda) scored a third-place finish for Dale Coyne Racing, followed by sophomore driver Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and teammate Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Honda).
The first quarter of the race went caution-free as drivers settled into rhythm, but the first yellow came at the expense of one of the race’s favorites in a big way. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Jay Howard (No. 77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda) made light contact with the Turn 1 SAFER barrier on Lap 53, and his car veered across the track and into the path of pole sitter Scott Dixon (No. 9 Camping World Chip Ganassi Racing Honda).
Dixon ran over the back of Howard’s car, went airborne and made contact with the SAFER Barrier on the inside of the short chute between Turns 1 and 2. Both Dixon and Howard walked away from their cars, and were checked, released and cleared to drive from the track’s IU Health Emergency Medical Center. The incident caused a 19-minute red flag to repair catch fencing and SAFER Barrier in the south end of the track.
The remainder of the race was littered with cautions, as several debris yellows and on-track incidents interrupted race strategies and jumbled the running order. Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge) hit the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier on Lap 122 to bring out the fourth caution of the day. Lazier complained of chest discomfort following his incident and was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital, where he was treated and released.
Formula One crossover Fernando Alonso was the talk of the racing world the past few weeks, and today was no different. The Spaniard – in his first Indy car race – stormed to the lead early in the second stint, taking the point on Lap 37, and ran near the front for the majority of the race, leading 27 laps. The sensational story took a downward turn on Lap 180, when his No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda suffered a mechanical issue, ending Alonso’s day. The two-time F1 champion finished 24th.
“(It) was a great experience, the last two weeks,” Alonso said. “I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an Indy car.
“Thanks to INDYCAR, an amazing experience,” the 35-year-old Spaniard added. “Thanks to Indianapolis, thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I’m not American, but I felt really proud to race here.”
Sato becomes the sixth different race winner in six races to start the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. With double the normal race points available for the Indy 500, Sato launches himself into third place in the championship standings. Castroneves leads with 245 points, with reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud, Sato and Dixon all with 234 points.
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action next weekend with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. With two races on the weekend, fans can catch the INDYCAR action at 3:30 p.m. ET on both Saturday and Sunday on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Live streaming of all practice and qualifying sessions can be found at RaceControl.IndyCar.com and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.