By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — A fantastic break on a late race caution helped elevate Takuma Sato through the field in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 and the Japanese driver nearly picked up his second 500 win on Sunday, finishing third.
Sato was on pit road for his final stop when the caution came out for the five car incident on Lap 178 that eliminated Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, Zach Veach and Sebastien Bourdais from the race and took Charlie Kimball out of contention. The No. 30 Panasonic/MiJack Honda was ordered into fifth position under caution and Sato took his chance, climbing to fourth on Lap 188 and third on Lap 191 but there would be no further passes as Simon Pagenaud won ahead of Alexander Rossi and Sato.
“I think honestly Simon looked something in the pocket,” said Sato. “He showed great speed and skill. I think Alex (Rossi) and I could possibly battle each other at the end of the day, but honestly, last eight laps I tried and tried and tried and I couldn’t get to Alex, so that means I think physically we were third today, which is — I think it’s still great result to the team, especially considering we were a lap down in 31st. I think it was great — it’s just a little unfortunate for Graham (Rahal), he had an accident. But I think the entire team lifted a huge potential again, and really looking forward to competing at the highest level in the second third of the season.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing racer bided his time early in the 500, moving to the lead before his first pit stop but had an issue on his first pit stop with the right rear wheel. After coming back into the pits to check for a loose wheel, Sato was a lap down in 31st but got his lap back during the caution period for Marcus Ericsson’s spin into pit road.
After that, the chase was on for the first Japanese driver to win at Indianapolis. Sato’s late stop under yellow on Lap 145 meant that he could go longer than most of the rest of the field under green. The caution came out while he was on pit road and after being placed in fifth, Sato was able to charge with fresher tires than the rest of the field.
“It was an amazing job from the team really,” said Sato. “Once we went laps down, I know the Indy 500 can be a miracle, but after that there was a long period of no yellows. I think we spent more than 100 laps to get back on the lead lap, but you know we just put our head down and did the job. Just brilliant strategy, I feel, and we got back to the lead lap.”
The next NTT IndyCar Series race is the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on June 1st and 2nd.