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Sato Wins Second 500; Dixon Not Cool With Call

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 24 2020

Takuma Sato takes a milk shower after winning Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Takuma Sato’s second Indianapolis 500 victory has confirmed his status as the definitive open-wheel late-bloomer.

“Taku” won the race’s 104th edition under caution Sunday at age 43, three years after emerging as a household name via his first victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

“In motor racing, as long as you’re fit enough to drive the car, why not (compete)?” Sato said after matching fuel strategies with 2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon during the race’s frenetic final laps. “My boss (1986 Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal) was driving in 50s. Mario (Andretti) was driving that age, too. I know the car is different today, but 43 to me is just only number.”

Here’s another: Sato _ first/only driver from Japan to win the Indy 500 _ also is the 20th competitor to have won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at least twice.

“Just amazing, amazing feeling,” said Sato, a native of Tokyo and favorite son of Honda Racing dating to a Formula One career that began in 2001. “I don’t know. I just don’t feel yet. I think it’s coming later on. Exactly same happening in ’17. I think I was just too excited for the first one. Now, of course I realize what’s coming.”

Sato scored that first Indy 500 win for Andretti Autosport and team-owner Michael Andretti. Sunday’s win in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing led a 1-3 podium finish that included teammate Graham Rahal. 

“I just so glad to be part of this organization,” said Sato, who previously competed in the NTT IndyCar Series for RLL in 2012. “Once again, thank you for all the owners and the boys and the sponsors and fans that make me happen, still driving in very competitive manner.

“No, I just feel so lucky.”

The race ended under caution after Spencer Pigot _ RLL’s third Indy 500 entry _ crashed hard in Turn 4 on Lap 195. Sato and Dixon were locked in a one-on-one duel when Pigot crashed as the leaders had started Lap 196 of the scheduled 200. Pigot spun and made contact with the SAFER Barrier on the outside and then slammed into the protective tire barrier at the head of the pit wall with the side of his No. 45 Honda. Pigot was awake and alert and transported to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for further evaluation.

Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal crossed the finish line under yellow.

The gap between Sato and Dixon rarely exceeded one second and was as close as three-tenths of a second after Sato inherited the lead on Lap 185 when Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport pitted in the No. 26 Honda, running a different fuel sequence than the top cars.

Sato appeared to be home-free on Lap 191, building a lead of 0.9515-seconds. But he was approaching the almost-lapped cars of A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champ, and Charlie Kimball, allowing Dixon to close the gap.

On Lap 195, Sato cleared Kanaan while Dixon and Rahal remained behind T.K. That expanded Sato’s gap to 1.173-seconds, but Dixon and Rahal lapped Kanaan just before Turn 1 on Lap 196 and moments before Pigot’s race-ending crash.

“Huge congrats to Sato,” said Dixon, 40, who started second in the No. 9 Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. “He drove his pants off today.”

Nearly all of the lead cars made their final pit stops between Laps 167 and 170, narrowly close to the maximum laps possible with one tank of fuel under green flag conditions. Sato made his final stop on Lap 168, with Dixon pitting for the final time on Lap 169. Sato was able to hold off Dixon in a vigorous squabble for the virtual lead on-track, as the drivers ahead of them didn’t have enough fuel to finish without stopping.

“The fuel strategy was a bit tight,” said Sato, who led a total of 27 laps. “I saw Scott was coming right through out of Turn 4, and he was screaming coming at me. And I just held him off.”

Still, Dixon thought Sato perhaps had made his final stop too soon and would be forced to pit late in the race for a splash of methanol fuel _ especially since Dixon was able to save fuel by driving in Sato’s slipstream. That scenario never unfolded due to Pigot’s accident.

“This is a hard one to swallow,” said Dixon, a three-time winner this season and the championship point leader. “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.”

Too, Dixon was left to wonder what the outcome might have been if sanctioning body INDYCAR had red-flagged the race to clean Pigot’s debris field and set-up a restart and sprint to the checkered flag.

Indy 500 runner-up Scott Dixon passes Alexander Rossi. Dixon led the field for much of the race.

“I definitely thought with five to go, I thought they were going to immediately because, one, the size of the crash, and two, where it was, it wasn’t going to be a quick cleanup,” Dixon said. “I was kind of surprised they didn’t. I kind of heard they said, ‘Normally we don’t do that.’ History would tell you that’s not true either.

“For us it would have been really good because I think the leader would have been a sitting duck. That’s kind of harsh on Sato. If they got out there and had a dash with three laps to go, I think all is fair in a situation like that. I can’t change that. It is what it is. I think it would have been interesting to see how that played-out. It would have been much better for us rather than Sato.”

Pressed again on the subject, Dixon continued, “I think if they had thrown a red _ the restart, the car in second in a scenario like that where you’re not trying to save fuel, going flat-out _ the leader would have been a bit of a sitting duck unless he did something very weird or strange that caused a bit of a chain reaction or an accordion effect. If there was a three-lap shootout, that would have been pretty fair.

“I don’t know how or why or how they do it in the past. Last few times it was maybe more laps to go in the race. I think if they called it pretty quickly like they typically do, you still could have had at least three laps to fight it out.

“I think there’s always many turning points that you could have done a little bit different. Ultimately if it had gone green all the way maybe he would have run out of fuel. It seems like from our point of view that was definitely possible. I definitely thought where they did lean-out for a period, like maybe about a lap or three-quarters of a lap, that’s where we got the big run on them. That’s the pace they would have had to run till the end. I don’t know. I’m going to be bummed, I can tell you that. That’s a given.”

A five-time series champion, Dixon led a race-high 111 laps and jumped from ninth to third on the all-time Indianapolis 500 lap-leaders list with 563 during his career. The native of New Zealand trails only four-time Indy 500 champ Al Unser (644) and Ralph DePalma (612) in that category.

Sato, meanwhile, continued an impressive run of recent success at IMS with three top-three finishes in the last four years on the famed 2.5-mile oval. In addition to wins Sunday and in May 2017, he finished third last year.

Two of three front-row starters placed among the top three at the finish, as Sato started third and Dixon second. Pole-sitter Marco Andretti finished 13th in the No. 98 Honda. Passed by Dixon heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap, Andretti basically disappeared on a day when he failed to lead a lap in his 15th Indy 500 start. It was a disappointing end to the “Month of Marco,” and a race that only added to the frustration of the Andretti family.

Mario Andretti _ Marco’s 80-year-old grandfather _ still owns the family’s only Indy 500 victory in 1969. 

“We had high hopes coming into the race today after being fast all month,” said Marco, 33, who drives for father Michael at Andretti Autosport. “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.”

Eventual winner Takuma Sato in hisRahal Letterman Lanigan Honda on Sunday.

Rahal, the son of team co-owner Bobby Rahal, matched his career-best IMS finish of third from 2011 driving the No. 15 Honda. “It was a great day for our team, the entire organization and all of our partners,” Graham said. “I hope Spencer is OK; that’s my main concern at this time. Secondly, congrats to Takuma for a heck of a drive. I’m proud of you and thankful for what you have done for our program and all of our partners.

“I thought we had a run at it but just got too loose the last stint. But our United Rentals team was unbelievably good in the pits today and we were able to work our way forward. For us to come home P1 and P3 today means the world to me. Solid day all around. We’ve got a championship chase that we’re in now. Hell of a job RLL!”

Connecticut native Santino Ferrucci finished fourth in the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan to cap a dominant month for Honda Performance Development in its corporate horsepower rivalry with Team Chevy.

“Just an incredible race,” Ferrucci said. “The SealMaster Honda was insane today. We started 19th and finished fourth. The guys worked really hard on pit lane, on the timing stand and the strategy was perfect. I’m just really happy. After two incredibly long weeks of focusing on the SealMaster car, we ended really good.

“During the first pit stop, I got caught in neutral and it was like a blessing in disguise. It set us way back, but the momentum we had just carried us. On the restart, we went from 25th right back into the top-10, where we needed to be, and we just fought our way into the top-four.”

Josef Newgarden, the two-time/reigning series champion, was the highest-finishing Team Chevy driver at fifth in his No. 1 Team Penske entry.

“It’s disappointing, for sure,” Newgarden said. “Our Shell V-Power Nitro Chevrolet was fast. It was really, really good. We were just taking our time. My boys in the pits were on it today. They made us up spots on every single pit stop. We put ourselves in position there at the end of the race, which is all you can ask for. We actually came in with Sato on that last stop and maybe we should have went one lap longer.

“But in the end, we were a little behind the 8-ball on the final stint. We were working to unhandcuff ourselves. I’m proud of everyone, though; they fought hard. I can’t thank Shell and Team Chevy enough for all the support they give us. We just didn’t have what we needed. We were in position but couldn’t capitalize to take advantage of it.

“Congrats to Takuma on the win. Just wish we were up there battling him for it.”

Pato O’Ward of Mexico was the highest-finishing rookie in McLaren’s return to IMS. O’Ward will claim Rookie of the Year honors Monday night during the annual Victory Banquet.

“The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP team did everything we could to get to the front today,” O’Ward said. “My crew did an amazing job in the pit stops. We were fighting up there with Dixon, (Alexander) Rossi and Takuma _ great job to him. Toward the end, we just didn’t have enough to get those in front of us. I think we juiced-out the car and got everything out of it. We were right behind Josef in fifth for Chevrolet, so I think it was a good job for my first-ever Indy 500.

“Obviously, here the only thing that matters is winning. I’m excited to come back next year and try and get that win, as this place is pretty special. For now, just collecting and move onto Gateway.”

The next series event is a doubleheader set for Aug. 29-30, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on the World Wide Technology Raceway oval in Madison, Ill., outside St. Louis.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 30, 2021 _ an event IMS Chairman Roger Penske hopes will be run with fans in attendance. Sunday’s race was conducted without fans due to health concerns in Marion County related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Penske _ who delivered the command to start engines _ purchased the facility, sanctioning body INDYCAR and the IndyCar Series from the Hulman-George family last fall. IMS lists permanent seating for more than 235,000 fans. Infield seating can raise the capacity to an estimated 400,000, numbers that stamp the race as the largest single-day sporting event in the world.

Sato said the vibe around IMS this month obviously was muted, and in a word, sad. “It’s tough on everyone, not only for us, everyone fighting with the COVID-19,” Sato said. “It was just fortunate, so fortunate, to be able to perform as a sport, be able to show millions of people watching TV today at home, get some energy on it.

“I think I’m very proud to be a part of it. Obviously to get motivation out, there’s no question, I mean, it is Indy 500. Yes, there’s no spectators. If you go through Gasoline Alley each morning, there’s no energy on it. It was a little sad. But we all understood. Also, this wasn’t the first race we had no spectator. We have been no spectator entire season, which we never want to get used to, but something that we have to do. There is no question.

“However, like driver introduction, go to the walk, I love the atmosphere with 300,000 people, the energy, how can I say _ the power, the voice. That’s amazing, which we don’t have today. But we still head down, do our job, know millions people watching on TV.

“When you’re driving, too, obviously we concentrating on what’s happening on the track, but we see the grandstand all the time. Every driver, every single lap, every single corner, we watch the flag because of the wind direction, extremely important. Every time we watch the flag, just the gray grandstand. That was a little bit sad.

“Once again, we raced for the fans, we raced for the team. For that moment I have no question. I know I can give the 100 percent commitment.”

###

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 _ 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 335; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 251; 3, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 218; 4, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 214; 5, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 212; 6, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 207; 7, Colton Herta, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, 189; 8, Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, 189; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 175; 10, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 157.

UPDATED 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Saturday, June 6 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, July 4 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course 1 (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, July 11 _ Road America Race 1, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 12 _ Road America Race 2, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Friday, July 17 _Iowa Speedway Race 1, Newton (Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske)

Saturday, July 18 _ Iowa Speedway Race 2, Newton (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 23 _ Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 29 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Race 1, Madison, Ill.

Sunday, Aug. 30 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Race 2, Madison, Ill.

Friday, Oct. 2 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 1

Saturday, Oct. 3 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 2

Sunday, Oct. 25 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 24 2020
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