Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 may have ended under caution, but it changed nothing for Takuma Sato.
The 43-year-old from Tokyo, Japan was leading coming to three to go when a grinding crash by Spencer Pigot in turn four brought out the final caution of the day. When race officials allowed the race to finish under the caution flag, Sato became a two-time winner of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Sato crossed the finish line in his No. 30 Honda in the middle of a three-wide finish – albeit under the caution flag – with second place Scott Dixon on the inside and third place Graham Rahal on the outside.
Sato, who won the race for the first time in 2017, is the only driver from Japan to win the Indianapolis 500. The victory is the second victory in the event for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with the first coming in 2004 with Buddy Rice.
“This was the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team,” said Sato. “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.”
“Takuma ran hard all day long. In the end, I was worried about traffic. Takuma got through it pretty good,” said team owner Bobby Rahal. “Dixon and Graham got through it pretty good. I think Takuma had just enough of a gap, and that was all it took. Then, of course, the accident. Who knows what would have happened those last five laps. I know Graham was giving it everything he had and had a good race.
“But Takuma? A two-time winner of the Indy 500. That’s pretty cool. We worked hard since last year’s Indy 500. Really proud of the team. We qualified well as a group. Of course, the race pace was quite good.”
The finish came in front of empty grandstands, as fans were not allowed to attend the 500 for the first time in history due to the COVID-19 epidemic, while the race – usually run on Memorial Day weekend – was pushed to August for the same reason.
Sato had battled back and forth with Dixon over the next to last stint of the race leading to the final round of green flag pit stops. Dixon was able to move ahead of Sato with a quicker time on pit road.
But with 27 laps to go, Sato powered to the outside of Dixon in the first turn to put himself in position to take the lead when the pit stops cycled through. When Zach Veach finally made his final pit stop on lap 183, Sato assumed the lead.
But the battle was far from over, as Dixon stalked Sato over the closing laps. Dixon got a run for the lead in turn 1 on lap 185, but Sato slid wide to block the move. Dixon tried again a lap later, but couldn’t make the move.
Sato built an advantage as the leader raced through lapped traffic, and appeared to have a gap of about a second as the field entered the final three laps. But the battle and the race was effectively over with Pigot’s crash.
“Obviously, we pitted (a lap) short from Dixie,” said Sato. “The fuel strategy was a bit tight. I saw Scott was coming right through out of turn 4, and he was screaming coming at me. And I just held him off. Thank you so much.”
Pigot’s problems came with a spin in turn four into the outside wall. The car slid down and made hard contact with the tire barrier at the end of the pit wall, sending it ricocheting hard back into the outside wall.
Pigot climbed from his car under his own power, but was then tended to while laying on the racing surface near the outside wall as the race concluded under the caution flag. According to IndyCar, Pigot was awake and alert and was transported to an area hospital for further evaluation.
With the extensive damage to the barrier and a driver being tended to on the track, race officials made the decision to let the race finish under the caution flag.
Dixon appeared to have the car to beat all day, seeming to be able to lead at will to pace the 200 lap race for 111 laps. The Auckland, New Zealand native made a strong statement from the drop of the green flag, as he powered ahead of pole sitter Marco Andretti from the start. At one point, he lead the race by a 10-second margin, and seemed poised to add a second Indianapolis 500 win to his resume to go with his 2008 victory.
But with 42 laps to go, the aggressive Sato powered around Dixon for the lead for the first time. From there, the 40-year-old never seemed to have the same power as earlier, and had to settle for a second place finish.
“This is a hard one to swallow,” said Dixon, who won on the Indianapolis infield road course earlier this year. “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. I thought they were going to throw a red flag, which would have been interesting for the last four or five laps.
“Huge congrats to Sato. He drove his pants off today. Rahal Letterman Lanigan, they were super fast, obviously 1-3. A good day for Honda. A massive thank you. Proud to be powered by HPD and Honda, and it’s nice to get some points. But it’s hard when it slips away like that.”
Sato’s teammate, Graham Rahal, but together a strong run in the closing laps, and crossed the finish line in third.
Santino Ferrucci finished in fourth, with defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden in fifth.
Pato O’Ward, James Hinchcliffe, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top 10.
One driver that appeared to have something for Dixon was Sato’s teammate, Alexander Rossi. Rossi had swapped the lead back in forth with Dixon for several laps just halfway point until the caution came out on lap 122 when Alex Palou crashed in turn one. That sent the leaders to pit road.
That’s where Rossi saw things go in the wrong direction after he was hit with a penalty for making contact with Sato leaving his pit box. That sent Rossi to the back of the field for the restart.
Rossi was trying to work his way back into contention when he got loose off turn 2 and plowed into the wall on lap 145, ending his day. He was credited with a 27th place finish.
The race was slowed seven times by cautions for 51 laps, with Pigot’s crash being the scariest of the day. Another crash that looked scary came on a lap 94 restart, when Conor Daly’s car spun coming to the green flag, hitting the inside wall. Oliver Askew spun while trying to avoid the slowing field, with his car making hard contact head-on to the inside wall before coming to rest just past the entrance to pit road. Neither driver was injured.
Usually stout in the Indianapolis 500, the Chevrolet powered Team Penske entries were never much of a factor on the day, with Josef Newgarden turning in the best finish for the group with a fifth place finish. His teammate, Helio Castroneves, came home 11th while Will Power finished 14th. The fourth Team Penske entry, defending race winner Simon Pagenaud, led laps early on a pit strategy run, but finished two laps down in 22nd.
Race pole sitter Marco Andretti came into the race with a lot of attention after qualifying last weekend, but was never really a factor in the race. He finished in the 13th position at the end of the day.
“We had high hopes coming into the race today after being fast all month,” said Andretti. “But we didn’t have it today. We didn’t have the pickup we needed on the restarts. That left us a sitting duck, and we weren’t able to gain ground on pit stops to make up for anything. Everything combined left us 13th.”
Another pre-race favorite, Formula 1 veteran Fernando Alonso, ran mid-pack most of the event, finishing 21st at the end.
NTT IndyCar Series
Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis 500 Qualifying – August 23, 2020
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
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.
Point Standings: Dixon 335, Newgarden 251, O’Ward 218, Rahal 214, Pagenaud 212, Sato 207, Herta 189, Ferrucci 181, Power 175, Rosenqvist 157.