Takuma Sato claimed his second Indy 500 win at the famous brickyard on Sunday, a late yellow flag allowing him to hold off a fast-finishing Scott Dixon.
Sato, in 2017 the first Japanese to win the prestigious IndyCar event, started from third on the grid in his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara-Honda but did not lead until the 157th lap, with New Zealand’s Dixon dominating the early stages of the race held in front of empty stands due to the coronavirus.
Takuma Sato, driver of the #30 Panasonic / PeopleReady Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 23, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.(Getty/Kyodo)
After his final pit stop on the 168th lap, the 43-year-old Sato moved through the field and took the lead with 16 tours remaining.
But it was a big crash by Spencer Pigot that proved the deciding factor as officials chose not to throw a red flag and stop the race, instead allowing it to end under a caution, meaning Sato was able to cruise across the line unchallenged.
“Obviously, we stopped short from (Dixon), we knew in terms of the fuel strategy was a bit tight, I could not use max power so I had to switch back and forth,” Sato said, explaining that his final stop, one lap before Dixon, meant he had to conserve fuel.
Down on power, Sato likely would have struggled to hold off Dixon if Pigot had not intervened.
Takuma Sato, driver of the #30 Panasonic / PeopleReady Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, celebrates by kissing the bricks after winning the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 23, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.(Getty/Kyodo)
“Scott was coming right through, out of turn 4, screaming and coming and I just held him off,” said Sato, who finished third in the race last year.
“Honda did a hell of a job…gave us a lot of power, a lot of fuel mileage.”
Dixon was left questioning the stewards’ decision not to stop the race and give him a five-lap dash over which he could try to retake the lead he had held for 111 laps, by far the most of any driver.
“For us, it would have been really good because I think the leader would have been a sitting duck,” Dixon said, according to NBC Sports.
“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.”
IndyCar said the scale and timing of Pigot’s crash gave officials little option but to keep the race under yellow.
“IndyCar makes every effort to end races under green, but in this case following the assessment of the incident, there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart,” it said in a statement.
For Sato, who became just the 20th driver to win one of the sport’s biggest races more than once, the manner of his victory did not seem to take away from the joy he felt, and he was sure not to forget what the win means for Japan.
“It’s great, obviously, worldwide this is a mega sport. I am really proud to be part of the winners again,” he said.
“But especially for Japan (which) sacrificed a lot after the earthquake in 2011 and still today (with) a lot of rain and earthquakes.”
“I hope this gives a little boost in energy and thanks a lot for the support.”