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Indy 500 Victory Went To Sato’s Head On Monday

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 30 2017

Takuma Sato woke up on Monday morning as an Indy 500 winner and with the traditional post-celebration head ache. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato’s alarm clock went off at 6:45 a.m. Monday, launching a bleary-eyed search for a bottle of fast-acting pain relief tablets.

Should a throbbing head be considered yet another official confirmation of victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500?

“Actually, yes,” said Sato, explaining he got to sleep at 3 a.m. after approximately 30 interviews, dinner with his Andretti Autosport team at midnight, a 2 a.m. nightcap…only to return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few hours later for the winner’s traditional morning-after interview.

“I had a few hours’ sleep, so I had a headache and kind of feeling not great, and oh, my gosh, was it just a dream?” Sato said. “But my manager said, ‘Come on, you’ve got five minutes to go for the interview.’ OK, now it’s real. So it was nice to see it actually happened.”

A Verizon IndyCar Series journeyman, Sato became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 by fending off three-time race champion Helio Castroneves by 0.2011-seconds. It was the sixth-closest finish in Indy 500 history. Sato, a 40-year-old native of Tokyo, grabbed the lead from Castroneves for good on Lap 195 of the 200-lapper with a pass down the 2.5-mile Speedway’s front straight. Sato led twice for 17 laps to score the second consecutive victory, and fifth overall, here for Andretti Autosport.

“It’s just fantastic,” said Sato, driver of the No. 26 Honda. “Everybody is so happy, and I’ve

Takuma Sato issues the traditional smooch to the Borg Warner Trophy after winning at Indy on Sunday.

got…I don’t know, probably hundreds, thousands emails by now with all the congrats from the fans and across families. It’s just great. It’s just non-stop, non-stop going. But I must admit, this is the happiest things. And yeah, I can get on with that.”

The spoils of victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” were magnified Monday evening when “Taku” was a presented a check for $2,458,129 from an overall purse of $13,178,359. The entire field of 33 was feted, and paid, during the Victory Celebration presented by Ice Miller and Allied Solutions at the JW Marriott hotel downtown.

Sunday’s upset win was the second in Sato’s IndyCar Series career and first during his initial season with the team owned by Michael Andretti. Sato’s only previous series win was scored on the Streets of Long Beach in 2013 for A.J. Foyt Racing. That span of 74 winless starts was a reality check for Sato as he set up inside Gasoline Alley earlier this month.

“I couldn’t picture myself winning , but always winning is our aim,” said Sato, the sixth different winner in as many races this season. “So obviously we race here, the only reason is go for the win, of course. I thought (from the opening practice) the car has got tremendous speed, only because they have such a good base setting from last year. And over the course of the winter, I know back in the shop, the boys are working on the car, so much details. And talking to my race engineer (Garrett Mothersead), I know from the numbers, looking quite promising.”

Sato is the fifth different driver to win the Indy 500 for Andretti, who failed to win the event in 16 starts but has found his niche as a judge of oval-racing talent. Andretti’s previous winners were the late Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2007, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014 and Alexander Rossi in 2016. Andretti’s drivers have won three of the last four Indy 500s.

Andretti fielded six cars in the race, including a one-off entry in association with McLaren for Fernando Alonso, the two-time Formula One World Driving Champion. With Sato’s win, Andretti Autosport moved past Chip Ganassi Racing (four Indy 500 wins) in pursuit of Team Penske’s record 16.

“That’s awesome,” Mikey said. “You know, somebody said that to me when we were down in Victory Lane. I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s a big deal.’ Obviously I couldn’t ever win it as a

Takuma Sato is welcomed to pit road by his team after Sunday’s win.

driver. I think I said this a few years ago, maybe I was meant to win it a ton of times as an owner. Maybe when I’m 80-years-old, hopefully I’ll have more wins than Roger. That’s our goal.

“Roger, we’re coming after you! I only have like 12 or whatever to go but we’re coming after you.”

Castroneves said he pulled out all stops in his bid to present “The Captain” with win No. 17. Castroneves, who dodged multiple on-track incidents and led nine laps even after receiving a drive-through penalty, earned $770,629 for finishing second in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet. The Brazilian now is one of seven drivers with three Indianapolis 500 runner-up results.

As the laps clicked off, Castroneves found Indy 500 rookie Ed Jones in his sidepod-mounted mirrors. Jones never led the race but wound up as the top rookie finisher, third, in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. Jones, an Englishman living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, earned $535,629.

Englishman Max Chilton, who led a race-high 50 laps, finished fourth in the No. 8 Gallagher Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Chilton earned $484,129.

Rounding out the top-five was 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda also fielded by CGR. Brazilian Kanaan, who led 22 laps, earned $438,129.

Pole-sitter Scott Dixon earned $446,629 despite placing 32nd in the No. 9 Camping World Honda fielded by CGR. With the exception of an undisclosed ankle injury, the native of New Zealand escaped a frightening crash triggered by Englishman Jay Howard’s No. 77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda fielded by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Howard’s car drifted high on Lap 53 and made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1, rendering the front suspension inoperable. Howard’s car slid down across the track and collected Dixon’s car in the short chute, launching it airborne with parts flying. The spinning chassis made contact with the fence and then slammed onto the top of the SAFER Barrier. At one point the car’s tub was driver’s side down on the track, before righting itself.

“That crash felt like it was 30 minutes long,” said Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion, dressed in his tux and with his crutches parked off-stage. “I’m just glad everybody’s OK. It was wrong place at the wrong time.”

Dixon added that Camping World since has opted to continue as his primary sponsor for the season’s remaining 11 races, including the upcoming Saturday-Sunday doubleheader event at Belle Isle in Detroit.

Howard said he did not know who was involved as the crash unfolded in real time. “I feel really bad for collecting Scott,” Howard said, “and I’m certainly very grateful that Scott is OK.”   

Alonso earned $305,805 for his great American adventure, including $50,000 for being named Sunoco Rookie of the Year. The 35-year-old Spaniard was the top-qualifying rookie, in fifth, and led 27 laps _ more than any other first-timer _ before placing 24th after a blown engine in his No. 29 McLaren-Honda on Lap 180 ended his race while running seventh.

“This is probably a one or a two-in-a-lifetime speech, so I wanted to get it right,” said Alonso, reading from scripted notes. “It has been an incredibly intense two weeks since we decided we would take part in the Indy 500 and I have enjoyed every second of it. Maybe not that much when my car stopped. At least it was clear which side I had to park the car, as my steering has been turning left for weeks.

“I have always believed that a complete driver should prove himself in a different series of motorsport. This is one of the reasons why I came here. We entered this race also with the aim of linking two different worlds of motorsport, and I believe we have achieved this. Despite Tony Kanaan’s several warnings, I am pleased to say I have made it nearly unscratched throughout the whole Month of May.

“It was a first time with so many activities off-track, so many photos, so many autographs. We even flew to another city (New York) in the middle of the event. For you guys, this is normal. But trust me, it’s not normal. Then you want to focus and concentrate on the race, so you come to the grid and you can hardly find your car. Finally, you jump in the car and think you are finally alone and concentrate, but you have two spotters that tells you how to drive inside/outside.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to take part in this iconic race, so my congratulations go to the Hulman-George Family on such a great event. Michael, thanks for welcoming me so warmly. Everyone at Andretti Autosport has made me feel at home and I can say I have found a new family here. Thanks to Zak Brown and everyone at McLaren for the great effort and the energy we all have put into this project. Thanks to all my teammates who have all looked after me and given me all sort of tips.

“Taku, congratulations for winning this one. And the next time, I want your engine. And you are my favorite Japanese driver in INDYCAR. Thank you all the drivers. I am so glad I have found some great people and new friends on this side of the Atlantic. You guys are super, super-talented. I learned so much from each one of you that have made me a better driver today, not only in oval racing. So thank you guys.”

Alonso also gave shout-outs to oval-track mentors Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 winner for Marlboro Team Penske, and three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, who won his 1974 and 1976 Indy 500s in papaya orange McLarens powered by Offenhauser engines.

“It has been an experience I will take with me forever,” Alonso said, “and I can’t wait to have my papaya orange McLaren on display in my museum in Spain. Thanks Indianapolis. Thanks INDYCAR.”

Alonso took on this project as part of a personal quest to win the Triple Crown of international racing. Already a two-time winner of Formula One’s premier event, the Monaco Grand Prix, Fernando is looking to add the Indy 500 and endurance racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in France to his bulging resume.

Alonso added it was “amazing” to lead the Indy 500 as a rookie, a box he checked for the first time on Lap 37. “I came here and I had no clear target of how competitive we would be,” Alonso said. “I know I was leading the race. I watched the tower, I saw the No. 29 on top and I was just hoping some of my friends were taking a picture of that moment. Finally I got some and I will print it and put it at home.”

However, Alonso was vague on any plan to return as an Indy 500 competitor. “I’m sure you have a new fan to the race,” said Alonso, who had permission from Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group, to skip the Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete at IMS. “It was an unknown race, to be honest, for me and a very nice show, a very nice event. But I cannot tell anything now. I don’t know. We have to be in the right place in the right moment.

“If I say that I will not come back, maybe next year I’m here because I’m with the same team and same engines I could work on. If I say yes and the circumstances change, maybe I’m not allowed to do these events. What I can guarantee is that I will come in the future-future, maybe not next year.”

Andretti later said working with Brown, a native of California, and the McLaren organization proved seamless. “There was not one problem the whole Month of May,” Andretti said. “I’m hoping we can bring McLaren back for good and have them be here fulltime. So that’s what we’re working on.”

Andretti also saluted Alonso with remarks that hinted he did not expect Fernando to return in 2018.

“Fernando, you were just a total pleasure,” Andretti said. “I just love you, man. You’ve become a real friend. And I can tell you that if you ever do want to come back here and drive again you will always have a seat with me. So I hope you decide to do it again because it was just a great experience. It was a total honor to have you be a part of all this. I think you’ve made us a better team, being a part of it, even though you were only here for a couple weeks.”

The Indianapolis 500 purse consists of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Verizon IndyCar Series awards, plus other designated and special awards.

Fans can renew tickets for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, scheduled for May 27, 2018, by visiting IMS.com.

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Official results of Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit/engine, laps completed reason out (if any), and prize money earned:

1. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running, $2,458,129
2. (19) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $770,629
3. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 200, Running, $535,629 
4. (15) Max Chilton, Honda, 200, Running, $484,129
5. (7) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, Running, $438,129 
6. (18) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $255,805
7. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running, $420,629 
8. (8) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running, $384,629 
9. (25) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $235,305 
10. (24) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $364,129 
11. (2) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $395,129 
12. (14) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running, $361,129 
13. (13) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 200, Running, $355,629 
14. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $349,129 
15. (31) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $210,305 
16. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running, $345,129 
17. (28) Pippa Mann, Honda, 199, Running, $200,305
18. (29) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 194, Running, $200,305 
19. (22) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 186, Running, $334,129 
20. (33) James Davison, Honda, 183, v355,129 
21. (12) Oriol Servia, Honda, 183, Contact, $200,305 
22. (17) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 183, Contact, $349,129 
23. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 183, Contact, $388,129 
24. (5) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 179, Mechanical, $305,805 
25. (16) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 166, Mechanical, $339,129 
26. (32) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 155, Mechanical, $200,805 
27. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 136, Mechanical, $351,629 
28. (21) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 125, Mechanical, $202,805 
29. (30) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 118, Contact, $200,305 
30. (26) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 65, Contact, $334,129 
31. (27) Jack Harvey, Honda, 65, Contact, $205,805 
32. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 52, Contact, $446,629 
33. (20) Jay Howard, Honda, 45, Contact, $200,305 

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 155.395 mph
Time of Race: 3:13:03.3584 
Margin of victory: 0.2011-seconds
Cautions: 11 for 50 laps. Lead changes: 35 among 15 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Dixon 1-5 
Kanaan 6-27
Carpenter 28-29
Hildebrand 30
Montoya 31
Carpenter 32-34
Rossi 35-36
Alonso 37-42
Rossi 43-47
Alonso 48-60
Rossi 61-64
Sato 65-75
Rossi 76-78
Hunter-Reay 79-81
Power 82-83
Chilton 84-86
Hunter-Reay 87-89
Rossi 90-93
Hunter-Reay 94-95
Castroneves 96-103
Hunter-Reay 104
Rossi 105-109
Hunter-Reay 110-112
Rahal 113-114
Hunter-Reay 115-129
Alonso 130-134
Hunter-Reay 135
Alonso 136-138
Chilton 139-142
Kimball 143-147
Chilton 148-165
Davison 166-167 
Hildebrand 168
Chilton 169-193
Castroneves 194
Sato 195-200

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Castroneves 245, Pagenaud 234, Sato 234, Dixon 234,Rossi 190, Kanaan 188, Power 186, Newgarden 186, Jones 185, Hinchcliffe 170, Chilton 170.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 30 2017
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