INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves were both given second opportunities to win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
For the second time since 2014, Castroneves was determined to win his fourth Indy 500 in a thrilling fight to the finish with another driver. And for the second time, the Team Penske driver from Brazil finished second.
In 2012, Sato was determined to become the first driver from Japan to win the Indianapolis 500 and was in a late-race battle with Dario Franchitti to win the race. Sato tried to pass Franchitti by diving to the inside of turn one on the final lap, the two cars touched and Sato’s race ended in the SAFER Barrier in turn one as Franchitti scored his third Indianapolis 500 win. It would also be his last victory as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver.
Here were Castroneves and Sato – both given second chances in the Indianapolis 500. And this time, Sato got it right, racing to a thrilling victory in a wild and thrilling race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It featured an Indianapolis 500 record 15 different leaders who swapped the lead 35 times. In the final seven laps, Sato and Castroneves fought it out, trading the lead several times around the massive 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval with only the driver in front at the start/finish line scored as the leader.
Castroneves led lap 194 when he passed second-year driver Max Chilton in turn three. One lap later, Sato made his move for the lead coming out of turn four. He passed Castroneves at the line and was the leader on lap 195. Castroneves tried to race his way back to the rear of Sato’s Honda.
With four to go, Sato led by .2369 of a second. With three to go it was down to .1460 of a second. Castroneves was determined, just as he was in his 2014 battle with Ryan Hunter-Reay. He cut the lead to .0510 of a second with just two laps to go as the crowd estimated at 300,000 fans roared at every turn.
But on the white flag lap, Sato’s Honda had superior speed and horsepower to Castroneves’ Chevrolet and increased the lead to .3502 of a second.
When Sato drove to the checkered flag he defeated Castroneves by .3502 of a second to score a victory heard all the way to his hometown of Tokyo. He became the first driver from Japan to win the Indianapolis 500.
“Unbelievable feeling,” Sato said. “I cannot thank this whole team (enough). Look at these guys. Fantastic. It was obviously a tough, tough race. But Helio really drives fair. I can trust him. I can really (trust him) coming from the outside. It was fantastic race. What a race. Hopefully the crowd enjoyed it.”
Sato recalled his thrilling battle in 2012 and how that one ended in bitter disappointment when he was driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He learned a lesson that day and showed his wisdom in Sunday’s race.
“This time I was pointing in the right direction, wasn’t I?” Sato quipped. “It’s beautiful. I dreamed of something like this since I was 12. I can’t thank everyone enough for their support.
“Until three laps to go, you really didn’t know. Me and Helio went side by side with three laps to go. You’ve got to go for it, run it flat. And we did it, and we pulled away. Fantastic.”
It was the fifth Indianapolis 500 win for team owner Michael Andretti. The others include Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2007, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014 and Alexander Rossi in 2016.
“He is awesome,” Andretti said of Sato. “Oh, my God – I can’t believe it. We work really, really, really hard on this race. We focus on it a lot. Having all those cars out there, gaining all that information helps a lot. And we have great people on this team, and they’re the ones who got this win, as well as Takuma.
“He drove unbelievable.”