INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato climbed to a higher level of immortality Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and becoming just the 20th driver to capture “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at least twice.
Sato, from Japan, won the race under caution in the No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing when Spencer Pigot crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 195. Sato also won the race in 2017, with Andretti Autosport.
“This was the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team,” Sato said on Victory Podium. “HPD and Honda gave us a lot of power, a lot fuel mileage. And my boys … they sacrifice a lot. I can’t thank all of the people (enough).”
Scott Dixon finished second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda despite leading a race-high 111 laps. It was the third career Indy 500 runner-up finish for Dixon, a five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Graham Rahal helped RLLR to take two of the top three spots by finishing third in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda. Santino Ferrucci led a Honda sweep of the top four finishing positions by placing fourth in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda.
Two-time and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five and was the top Chevrolet-powered finisher in the No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro Team Penske Chevrolet.
Pato O’Ward was the top-placed rookie, finishing sixth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Sato and Dixon were locked in a stirring duel when Pigot crashed hard in Turn 4 at the end of Lap 195 as the leaders had started Lap 196, spinning and making contact with the SAFER Barrier on the outside and then slamming into the protective tire barrier at the head of the pit wall with the side of his No. 45 Hy-Vee/Embrace Pittsburgh Honda. Pigot was awake and alert and transported to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for further evaluation.
The gap between Sato and Dixon rarely exceeded one second and was as close as three-tenths of a second after Sato inherited the lead on Lap 185 when Zach Veach pitted in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, on a different fuel sequence than the top cars.
Sato appeared to be home free on Lap 191, building a lead of .9515 of a second. But he was approaching the almost-lapped cars of A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, which let Dixon close the gap.
On Lap 195, Sato cleared 2013 Indy 500 winner Kanaan while Dixon and Rahal remained behind the Brazilian. That expanded Sato’s gap to 1.173 seconds, but Dixon and Rahal lapped Kanaan just before Turn 1 on Lap 196, moments before Pigot’s race-ending crash.
“Huge congrats to Sato,” Dixon said. “He drove his pants off today.”
Nearly all of the lead cars made their final pit stops between Laps 167 and 170, narrowly close to the maximum laps possible with one tank of fuel under green flag conditions. Sato made his final stop on Lap 168, with Dixon pitting for the final time on Lap 169.
Sato then was able to hold off Dixon in a vigorous race for the virtual lead on the track, as the drivers ahead of them didn’t have enough fuel to finish the race without stopping.
“The fuel strategy was a bit tight,” Sato said. “I saw Scott was coming right through out of Turn 4, and he was screaming coming at me. And I just held him off.”
Still, Dixon thought Sato maybe made his final stop too soon and would be forced to pit late in the race for a splash of fuel, especially because Dixon was able to save fuel by driving in Sato’s slipstream. But that scenario never unfolded due to Pigot’s late accident.
“This is a hard one to swallow,” Dixon said. “On fuel mileage, I really can’t see how they were going to make it. We pitted a lap later, and the numbers they had to get, it was going to be very difficult.”
It was small consolation for Dixon, but he jumped from ninth to third on the all-time Indianapolis 500 lap leaders list with 563 career laps led, behind only Al Unser (644) and Ralph DePalma (612).
Sato continued an impressive run of recent success in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with three top-three finishes in the last four years. Besides his wins today and in 2017, he finished third last year.
Two of the three front-row starters ended up in the top three at the finish, as Sato started third and Dixon second. Pole sitter Marco Andretti finished 13th in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda.
The 105th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 30, 2021. The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES event is a doubleheader Aug. 29-30, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.