Sato Nips Castroneves For Indianapolis 500 Victory

Takuma Sato and Michael Andretti celebration lap after winning the Indy 500. [Andy Clary Photo]

Takuma Sato and Michael Andretti celebration lap after winning the Indy 500. [Andy Clary Photo]

by Joe Jennings

INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato drove the race of his life to win the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, nipping three-time winner Helio Castroneves by a scant 0.2011 seconds.

Driving an Andretti Autosport Honda, Sato overhauled Castroneves with a sensational pass on lap 195 and staved off his repeated challenges over the final five circuits to score the win. In total, Sato led twice for 17 laps.

Winner Sato was one of 15 drivers to lead the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. In winning the 500, he became the first Japanese driver to do so. His only other Verizon IndyCar Series victory came at Long Beach in 2014.

For Andretti Autosport, the team drove to an Indianapolis 500 victory for the fifth time, including three of the last four.

Said the jubilant winner, “Unbelievable feeling. I cannot thank this whole team (enough). 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.”

Recalling his close call in 2012, he added, “This time I was pointing in the right direction, wasn’t I? It’s beautiful. I dreamed of something like this since I was 12. I can’t thank everyone enough for their support.”
Asked when he thought about winning the race, he commented, “Until three laps to go, you really didn’t know. 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.”

Team owner Andretti said, “He (Takuma Sato) is awesome! Oh, my God: I can’t believe it. We work really, really, really hard on this race, and we focus on it a lot. Having all those cars out there (six), gaining all that information helps a lot. And we have great people on this team, and they’re the ones who got this win, as well as Takuma. He drove unbelievable.”

As expected, Castroneves was gracious in defeat. “I really wanted to get the fourth for everyone,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong: I tried. But unfortunately, you guys saw it: I was a little too hard with the power. Chevy did a great job, lasting the 500. Unfortunately, it was just a little bit short. Congratulations to Takuma. He did a phenomenal race. He bumped me a couple of times. I was like, ‘Man, this guy was not breakable.’ I really thought we had it. Even when I tried, now my car is going to get momentum again. But unfortunately, I couldn’t do it. I’ll tell you what: I think I bent the throttle so hard. But great team effort.”

Rookie Ed Jones came from 11th to finish a strong third in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda. To do so was more than challenging as in driving over debris, his floorboard had a hole in it, plus he had to replace a rear wing.
Said the Brit, “I had a great Dale Coyne Racing car underneath me the whole way that got me to make those passes. We were really fortunate with that yellow at the end that got us to the front. It was really tough. Congrats to Sato. I didn’t really have the pace for him and Helio at the end. But we did the best we could. Even in the draft, I was struggling to stay up with them. I think those guys must have trimmed out at the end, and we didn’t quite have the straight-line speed.”

Max Chilton motored to a solid fourth-place finish. He also led the most laps with 50.

Fifth place went to Tony Kanaan.

Former 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Alexander Rossi were next in line followed by Marco Andretti, Gabby Chaves and Carlos Munoz.

International driving star Fernando Alonso exited with engine woes in his Honda-powered entry on lap 179. He led 27 laps.

“I am obviously disappointed not to finish the race because every race you compete, you want to be at the checkered flag,” he said. “Today was not possible, but it was a great experience. I came here to challenge myself. I know I can be as quick as anyone in 1ndyCar but I didn’t know if I could be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar. It is nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500. I’m not an American, but I feel really proud to race here.”

Alonso’s teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay ran well until he, too, experienced similar engine problems.

A horrific-looking wreck involving pole winner Scott Dixon stopped the race on lap 56. It happened when Jay Howard bounced off a wall and was rammed at speed by Dixon, vaulting the New Zealand driver over Howard and flying through the air prior to turning over with the car disintegrating upon ramming the inner SAFER barrier.

Dixon emerged virtually unscathed, except for a possible ankle injury. Said the unlucky driver, “It only hurts a little bit; it was definitely a wild ride. When something like that happens, you have to decide which way to go.”

The race was stopped for 18 ½ minutes, so the track crew could make fence repairs and to remove debris from the track surface.

Eleven caution flags flew, consuming 50 laps.

Sixteen laps from the end five cars tangled, eliminating quality runs by Will Power and James Davison, who started last but was running near the front at that time.

1996 victor Buddy Lazier went out in a single-car accident and he was taken to a nearby hospital after complaining of chest pains.

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