From Road & Track” data-reactid=”23″>From Road & Track
In 2012, Takuma Sato had the opportunity. He ran second coming off turn 4 to take the white flag, he had a run on Dario Franchitti, and he had the chance to take the lead. He dove into turn 1 with all he had, lost control, and finished in the wall. The race ended under yellow, and Dario Franchitti won the race.
Sato already lived up to the promise of that race in 2017, when he took an Andretti Autosport car to victory after taking the lead from Helio Castroneves and defending it. He rejoined Rahal Letterman Lanigan, the team he ran for in that memorable 2012 run, the year after, and ran well throughout the 2019 edition of the race en route to a third-place finish. With his mastery of the track proven and a front row start for this year’s race, he was poised to finally give that pairing the win they had missed in 2012.
The biggest obstacle to this possibility? Scott Dixon, the Chip Ganassi Racing legend who won this race in 2008, won his fifth championship last season, and won the first three races of this season. Dixon started second, but he charged to the lead before lap one. He led 111 laps, building massive gaps whenever he was not focused on saving fuel, and clearly had the fastest car in the race.
But the race was thrown into chaos by successive cautions on laps 87 and 91, which led to a combined 13 laps under yellow and, suddenly, put the entire field on the far outside position to stop just twice more and finish the race. Dixon would spend the next stint trading the lead with Alexander Rossi in an attempt to save fuel, one which became irrelevant when a long caution fell on lap 122. Rossi was penalized under this yellow for a pit lane infraction, dropping him out of the top fifteen and forcing him to take unnecessary risks that led to him crashing into the turn 2 wall twenty laps later. The lengthy yellow closed what was once a tight and unlikely window for a single final stop to something much more manageable, and Dixon was able to restart in the lead.
This, crucially, is when Dixon and team seemed to allow Sato past in order to save fuel.
The race went green from there, both drivers stopped with just over 30 to go, and the fuel mileage situation was no longer fraught. But Dixon’s need to save fuel before his final stop stopped him from building the kind of massive lead he had built on previous restarts, leaving him vulnerable to Sato. He briefly led after his final stop, but just a lap later Sato moved past.
Dixon, followed closely by Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci, briefly lost close contact with Sato, but lapped traffic with ten to go brought Dixon back into the conversation. He made one mighty charge, but Sato defended effectively. He seemed prepared to wait out the next few laps, and make one more charge in the final laps, but, with five laps to go, Spencer Pigot spun out of turn four.
Pigot spun into the outside wall, which bounced him back into the tires that divide the pit lane and racing surface. The damage was massive, and, with just four laps left when the first chance for a red flag to be called came, even a red flag would lead to, at most, just one lap of racing after a restart. IndyCar decided not to throw the flag and preserve the restart, and the race ended under caution, with Sato winning.
This is only Sato’s sixth IndyCar win, but his second at Indianapolis and fourth since returning to Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2018. He is the first two-time winner of the race in the new turbo era that began in 2012, remains the only winner from Japan in the history of the race, and becomes the seventh-oldest race winner in history at 43 and 208 days.
Sato’s teammate Graham Rahal rounded out the top three, joined by Santino Ferrucci, Josef Newgarden, Patricio O’Ward, James Hinchcliffe, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the top ten. Notable runs include Ferrucci’s charge to fourth from 19th on the grid, O’Ward’s finish of sixth as a rookie, and Felix Rosenqvist’s run to 12th despite being alone on an alternate strategy. Honda, who took eight of the top nine spots in qualifying, owned eight of the top ten finishes, with only Penske’s Newgarden and Arrow McLaren SP’s O’Ward in the top ten for Chevrolet.
O’Ward is the presumptive Rookie of the Year, though Rinus VeeKay did qualify in the Fast Nine and run in the top three in the early portion of the race. Fernando Alonso finished 21st in his second 500, while last year’s winner Simon Pagenaud struggled to 22nd after late contact with another car.
IndyCar’s season championship is still led by Scott Dixon, who now has a massive 84 point lead on Josef Newgarden. The series returns next weekend, with two races at the St. Louis intermediate oval now known as World Wide Technology Raceway.