SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Takuma Sato took the checkered flag in the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in four years on Sunday.
Sato won the race under a caution that was caused by his teammate, Spencer Pigot, in the closing laps. Scott Dixon took second in spite of leading a majority of the race.
“We knew in terms of the fuel strategy it was a bit tight,” Sato said. “This is unbelievable. Honda did a hell of a job. So proud, especially for Japan!”
It’s Sato’s first Indianapolis 500 with Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, and Bobby Rahal’s second as a team owner. His first was with Buddy Rice in 2004.
“We’ve worked hard since last year’s Indy 500” said car owner Bobby Rahal. “We qualified well, we feel very, very happy. Takuma did a super job. The put stops for both cars were awesome today. When it came time to go racing, we went racing.”
The win is Sato’s sixth career win in the NTT IndyCar Series. He has won three IndyCar races in the last two seasons. His last win came late the previous season at Gateway in St. Louis.
His first Indy 500 victory came with Andretti Autosport in 2017. Sato is also the 20th driver to ever win the race multiple times.
Sato’s teammate Graham Rahal finished third. Santino Ferrucci and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five. Newgarden was the top Penske car on a mostly quiet day from the driver from the Team Penske stable.
Dixon led 111 of the race’s 200 laps after having grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Marco Andretti on the opening lap. It was a competitive race with 21 lead changes among 11 different leaders.
“We had a good day,” Dixon said. “Our strategy was good. I probably should have been a little more aggressive. Just tricky. Definitely hard to swallow, but the team did great. Car could have been better at the end, but we couldn’t make it on fuel.”
One of those leaders was Alexander Rossi, who exchanged the lead with Dixon several times midway through the race after an early wreck from Marcus Ericsson on Lap 25.
Rossi seemed poised to compete for the win, but a controversial pit stop penalty in which he hit Sato exiting his pit stall saw him moved to the back of the field for an unsafe pit exit.
On the subsequent restart, Rossi started charging through the field to gain those spots back, but crashed a few laps later.”
“I don’t even want to talk about the penalty right now,” Rossi told NBC once he was checked and released from the infield care center. “I’m going to have a long conversation with somebody about that.”
Three rookies, Alex Palou, Oliver Askew, and Dalton Kellett, wrecked out of the race. Rinus Veekay, who started fourth, finished 20th one lap down.
Pato O’Ward who failed to make the Indy 500 field in 2019, was the highest finishing rookie finishing sixth.
“I think we had a good race,” O’Ward said. “In the end, I just didn’t have what we needed to catch up with those Hondas up there. I couldn’t get runs! It was so hard to catch up to Dixon.”
The race came down to a duel between Sato and Dixon in the closing laps. Sato took the lead from Dixon with 20 laps to go as Dixon surrendered it saying he was not in a position to have enough fuel to finish the race had he gone all out.
With three laps left in the race Spencer Pigot, Sato’s teammate spun exiting turn four and crashed into the end of the pit road wall in a hard impact.
With the caution flag flying and with speculation there might be a red flag, the RLL team held their breath in hopes Pigot would be okay.
The red flag was not thrown, thus securing the win under caution for Sato.
“You are always hungry to win this race,” Sato said afterward. “You never know who is going to get the best out of it. This year, no one had an advantage. It was very competitive. We were fortunate that we made everything out of it (the car).”
Sato added that it was “sad” that there were no fans there to celebrate with.
“In Gasoline Alley, this morning, there was no energy,” Sato said. “But we understood. Still, during the pre-race ceremony, I love the driver introductions and seeing 300,000 people in the stands. But, we didn’t have that today, but it was good we had thousands of people watching on TV.”
“I didn’t notice there weren’t people in the grandstands those last few laps. But, in all seriousness, it’s eerie, it’s weird,” said Bobby Rahal about the fanless experience. “But, it’s something we had to make the best of.”
The series will head to Gateway in Madison, Illinois just east of St. Louis. Scott Dixon holds on to his championship lead heading into the race by a wide margin over second-place Simon Pagenaud.
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