Sato Aces Second Indianapolis 500 Victory

Takuma Sato celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 victory. [Chris Owens Photo]

Takuma Sato celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 victory. [Chris Owens Photo]

by Joe Jennings

Takuma Sato drove bravely against a star-studded field to ace the victory in the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The legendary race was delayed by 91 days due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe in May, and today’s finish ended up under the yellow flag due to a jarring crash by Sato’s teammate Spencer Pigot.

The slowdown at the end denied runner-up Scott Dixon a shot at victory as he expected to make a last-ditch effort to overhaul the fleet Sato in the last five circuits. Although Dixon expressed dismay with the absence of a red flag, race officials saw it otherwise, allowing Sato to drive into the new victory lane at the modernized Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Taking the lead on lap 185, the quiet-spoken driver led the closing laps to win the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for the second time, becoming the 20th driver to score multiple wins in the iconic event. He’s the only Japanese driver to win the fabled race.

Sato drove the Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. And Honda scored its 13th Indianapolis 500 victory.

“It was an amazing day,” Sato said. “I am so happy to be part of this organization; this team is amazing team. It is every driver’s dream to win the Indianapolis 500. My Honda gave us a lot of power and good fuel mileage. I had pitted a lap ahead of Scott and our fuel strategy was a bit tight. I saw he was screaming toward me, but I was able to hold him off. I wanted to go full power, but I had to save fuel, going back and forth. We were close at the end but you never know until the last corner. It was very close. This is unbelievable.”

Dixon, who dominated much of the 200 laps by leading 111 of the laps, finished second. He was admittedly frustrated with the outcome and believed he had the car to win had the final laps been run at speed.

“This is a hard one to swallow,” Dixon said. “On fuel mileage, I really can’t see how Takuma was going to make it as we had pitted a lap later, and the numbers they had to get was going to be very difficult. I thought they were going to throw a red flag, which would have made the last 4 or 5 laps to make it interesting. Huge congrats to Takuma.”

Sato’s teammate Graham Rahal finished a strong third.

Santino Ferruci took fourth at the end, giving Honda a 1-2-3-4 sweep at the finish.

Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden garnered fifth for the best result for Chevrolet.

Rounding out the top-10 were rookie Pato O’Ward, James Hinchcliffe, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Three-time winner Helio Castroneves took 11th with teammates Will Power 14th and 2019 victor Simon Pagenaud 22nd.

F1 champion Fernando Alonso finished 21st with 199 laps.

Pole winner Marco Andretti was never in contention and he ended up 13th. Seven caution flags slowed the race for 51 laps with the most severe crash coming 5 laps from the end when Pigot crashed, slamming into the attenuator at the entrance to pit road. His RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport entry was demolished but although shaken, he was awake and alert and taken to the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for further observation.

Crashes also eliminated Alexander Rossi, Marcus Ericsson, rookies Oliver Askew and Dalton Kellett and Alex Palou, plus Conor Daly.

The race featured a number of firsts and among the more notable ones were Roger Penske’s first as owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the first without fans because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the first with cars using the revolutionary aeroscreen and the first time the iconic event was run outside the month of May.

Also, the traditional pre-race pageantry program had to be altered to accommodate prevailing conditions.

Many fans had expressed their frustration with missing the race but Speedway president Doug Boles decreed their consecutive streak would be continued into 2021 by listening to or watching the race. Also, he advised that fans’ consecutive streaks ranged from two to 68 years with 36,000 tickets being sold to those witnessing the race for 35 consecutive years or more.

The Purdue marching band did not perform but a popular addition was the flyover by the USAF Thunderbirds at the conclusion of the National Anthem and a second time just as the race was about to get underway.

Missing, too, was the release of colorful balloons during the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

And Mr. Penske gave the starting command – “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” – marking the first time since Tony Hulman’s passing in 1977 that a member of the Hulman-George family didn’t do the honors.

The 33-car starting field was paced by the Andretti family with Mario Andretti and his son Michael in the two-seater with pole winner Marco Andretti close behind his grandfather and father.

Joining the popular third-generation driver in the speedy front row were Dixon and Sato.

At the start, Team Penske drivers were noticeably missing from the front of the pack with Newgarden 13th, former winners Power, Pagenaud and Castroneves further back in 22nd, 25th and 28th, respectively.

The NTT IndyCar Series season continues next weekend with the double-header at the World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis.

104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge Results
INDIANAPOLIS – Results Sunday of the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
3. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running
4. (19) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 200, Running
5. (13) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
6. (15) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 200, Running
7. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 200, Running
8. (10) Colton Herta, Honda, 200, Running
9. (20) Jack Harvey, Honda, 200, Running
10. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 200, Running
11. (28) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
12. (14) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 200, Running
13. (1) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
14. (22) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running
15. (17) Zach Veach, Honda, 200, Running
16. (32) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running
17. (30) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 200, Running
18. (29) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 200, Running
19. (23) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 199, Running
20. (4) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 199, Running
21. (26) Fernando Alonso, Chevrolet, 199, Running
22. (25) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 198, Running
23. (33) Ben Hanley, Chevrolet, 198, Running
24. (31) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 198, Running
25. (12) Spencer Pigot, Honda, 194, Contact
26. (16) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 187, Running
27. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 143, Contact
28. (7) Alex Palou, Honda, 121, Contact
29. (18) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 91, Contact
30. (21) Oliver Askew, Chevrolet, 91, Contact
31. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 82, Contact
32. (11) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 24, Contact
33. (27) James Davison, Honda, 4, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 157.824 mph
Time of Race: 3:10:05.0880
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 7 for 51 laps
Lead changes: 21 among 11 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Dixon 1 – 26
Askew 27 – 30
Pagenaud 31 – 44
Power 45 – 46
Dixon 47 – 63
Herta 64
Dixon 65 – 101
Rossi 102 – 105
Dixon 106
Rossi 107 – 114
Dixon 115 – 117
Rossi 118 – 120
Dixon 121
Rossi 122 – 123
Rosenqvist 124 – 131
Dixon 132 – 156
Sato 157 – 167
Dixon 168
Ferrucci 169
Hinchcliffe 170
Veach 171 – 184
Sato 185 – 200

NTT IndyCar Series point standings:
Dixon 335, Newgarden 251, O’Ward 218, Rahal 214, Pagenaud 212, Sato 207, Herta 189, Ferrucci 181, Power 175, Rosenqvist 157.

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