While it was anti-climatic, Takuma Sato brought his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) Panasonic/PeopleReady Dallara/Honda first to the checkered flags to win the 104th Indianapolis 500 over Scott Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing PNC Bank Honda and RLLR teammate Graham Rahal’s United Rentals Honda.
The race ended under caution after the seventh yellow period of the 200-lap contest around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s iconic 2.5-mile oval. While fans watching around the world would have preferred to have the race red-flagged, as it was in 2014, the NTT INDYCAR Series elected, after reviewing the time constraints for broadcasting versus the time needed to repair the badly damaged pit road attenuator that it was best to call it a race.
As it was, Sato stayed in the catbird seat for much of the hot, muggy and sun-baked afternoon while Dixon led 111 of the 200 laps. Sato led only twice, from laps 157 to 167 before making his final pit stop, then passed Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach on the 185th lap to hold point through Pigot’s accident and to the yellow and checkered flags.
At the start, pole man Marco Andretti made it to the green flags at the front of the 33-car pack, but he was passed by Dixon at the entry to the first turn on the first lap and would never be a factor, finishing in the 13th position. His two front-row starters, Dixon and Sato did far better. The Andretti curse continues.
The four-car Team Penske troops mounted challenges and the top finisher in that squad was Josef Newgarden, the reigning NTT INDYCAR Series champion who started 13th and finished in fifth place, never leading a lap. The 2019 Indy 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud led 14 laps but would take 22nd position, two laps behind the leaders after gaining three spots from his 25th place start. Will Power would lead for two laps but the 2018 Indy 500 winner would finish 14th, while Helio Castroneves, trying for his fourth win came all the way from 28th to take 11th at the close.
Of the drivers expected to show well on this familiar oval, Ed Carpenter had a difficult day. His U.S. Space Force Chevy pitted on the second lap after white-walling the black car and he would spend an extended time in the pits for wing replacement and suspension repair before taking the flags 13 laps down in 26th place; he started a disappointed 16th. James Davison’s (Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing, Byrd & Belardi Honda) exploding left-front brake will be good for the highlight reels; he started 27th and was first out of the race.
Conor Daly’s lap 92 spin out of the fourth turn saw his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy collect Arrow McLaren SP rookie Oliver Askew’s Chevy, after the 2019 Indy Lights titleholder led four laps during pit stop exchanges. Others to exit due to caution included Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson, A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Dalton Kellett’s Chevy, rookie Alex Pallou from Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh’s Honda stable – he had a solo crash on the 80th lap – 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who led 17 laps from ninth grid spot in his Andretti Autosport Honda. Rossi incurred a penalty after his team released him from a pit stop on the 131st lap and he nearly took out Sato. In his rush through the field after restarting last, Rossi swiped the wall on the 143rd lap and would retire.
The final driver to make contact was Pigot, set loose from Ed Carpenter Racing after a few years together. He landed with Citroen-Buhl Autosport, who teamed with RLLR and the Floridian was looking good before losing it coming out of the 4th turn with five laps left in the race. It would have taken an hour – easily – to clean up the destroyed attenuator and NBC had other obligations. So the 2020 Indy 500 finished under caution for the 11th time since Rick Mears’ yellow/checkers win in 1988.
Takuma Sato, now 43, has always had the reputation of being a great racer whose “No Attack, No Chance” theory of racing hasn’t always served him well. But since joining RLLR, the driver has appeared to have found symmetry with engineer Eddie Jones and now with strategist Derek Davidson.
In the past three years, Sato has chalked up four INDYCAR victories. Sato played the game extremely well on Sunday and he was extremely fortunate as the racing gods rewarded him for having “the fastest car in the last 30 laps,” as he admitted. Sato realized he had the goods to fight for the win with Dixon during his first 10-lap stint at the front. When he earned his final race lead, he was prepared. “I don’t think nobody had an advantage; we are very close to each other. The first time with Aeroscreen made it quite challenging in terms of the engineering. Everyone was on a clean sheet of paper; it’s like the name of INDYCAR, such tight competition.”
The last caution was unfortunate for points leader Scott Dixon, earning his third second-place result after taking a sole Indy victory in 2008. But there’s still time for the Iceman, who appears to be racing at his best right now after teaming up with engineer Michael Cannon. Dixon believed Sato wouldn’t have been able to finish first had the race continued green, as he pitted a lap prior to Dixon’s final pit call. “This is a hard one to swallow,” the Kiwi admitted. “We pitted a lap later, and the numbers they had to get, it was going to be very difficult. Huge congrats to Sato. He drove his pants off today. It was a good day for Honda and it’s nice to get some points. But it’s hard when it slips away like that.”
Rahal, matching his best finish of third in the Indy 500 (2011) hounded Dixon to the close before having to settle for second runner-up. Still he was pleased for the team, hopeful for Pigot’s health after his massive shunt and wishful for those last five laps. “I thought we had a run at it, but just got too loose the last stint,” an issue he dealt with in practice sessions. “For us to come home P1 and P3 today means the world to me. Solid day all around.”
The victory for Honda Performance Development (HPD) was its 13th win in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing and first since Sato won in 2017 with Andretti Autosport. Honda claimed eight of the top-10 finishing positions, with the first Chevy finisher being Newgarden in fifth, who followed Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser/Sullivan’s Santino Ferrucci’s Honda to the flags.
He was tailed by Arrow McLaren SP rookie Pato O’Ward, making his first Indy 500 start after failing to make the field last year; O’Ward earned the Rookie of the Race award. James Hinchcliffe took seventh for Andretti Autosport, teammate Colton Herta finished eighth in his Honda after failing to complete a lap last year, Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey earned his best finish in ninth and 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay earned the final top-10 spot. A total of 25 cars finished the race; the final finisher was Carpenter.
There’s no rest for the Indy cars. They’ve got a double-header next weekend on World Wide Technology’s oval track, which means mechanics will have their hands full turning the cars, something they’ll surely prefer to sitting and waiting again. The Gateway doubleheader will, unlike Indy, welcome fans to watch in person, which should make the gathering a lot more fun for everyone involved.