The win was treated with caution after Sato’s team-mate Spencer Pigot fell badly five laps to go and the officials were unable to clear the rubble in time to restart the race.
The win was the second for Rahal Letterman Lanigans Sato at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first came in 2017 while driving for Andretti Autosport.
“That’s incredible,” said Sato, soaked in celebratory milk. “I can’t find the words.”
However, Sato’s bosses could find the words.
“A hell of a job,” said team co-owner and former late night entertainer David Letterman as he hugged Sato in Victory Circle. “Damn it a job.”
“Takuma ran hard all day,” said team owner Bobby Rahal, who won the 1996 500 as a driver. “In the end, when we ran into this traffic, I was worried that they would somehow mess things up. Takuma got through pretty well, Dixon and Graham (Rahal) got through pretty well.
“And of course the accident. Who knows what would have happened in the last five laps?” Rahal added. “For Takuma, a two-time Indy 500 winner, that’s pretty cool.”
To get the win, Sato had to make a couple of questionable blocks against Dixon in the final laps, but race management took no action.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon, five-time Indy car series champion and 2008 500 winner, had to settle for second place after most laps and looked unbeatable until the last fuel stint.
Dixon, who won the first three races of the 2020 season, had led 111 of the race’s 200 laps. His second place was his third in a 500. All of these were also treated with caution.
“Definitely hard to swallow,” said Dixon. “We had a great day. With fuel economy, I don’t see how they would do it.”
Dixon said he was surprised the officials did not mark the race in red after the final wreck so the race could have ended under green.
“So that it ends like this,” he said. “I thought they were going to drive a red flag, which would have been interesting four or five laps, but congratulations to Sato. He took off his pants today.
“It’s nice to score a few points, but it’s hard when it slips away like that.”
Third was Sato’s third teammate, Graham Rahal.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci finished fourth, while Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished fifth.
Marco Andretti was the focus of the 2.5 mile IMS in the days leading up to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Marco Andretti, the grandson of the superstar Mario Andretti and son of the star driver and team owner Michael Andretti, won pole in a dramatic way a week ago. But just seconds after the race, he was overtaken by Dixon.
He stayed in the top 10 but never faced a serious challenge in hopes of becoming the first Andretti to win a 500 since his grandfather in 1969. He was 13th.
There was more bad news for his team when Alexander Rossi, who had swapped the lead with Dixon several times in the middle lap, collapsed badly on lap 144.
Last year’s winner, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, saw his hopes for a recurring end when he had to look for a new nose piece after an incident with Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap 135.
There was an interesting drama in the first few laps.
Hometown favorite Ed Carpenter’s hopes of winning his first 500 ended early when he was forced into the wall on Round 3. The damage to the right side of his car was moderate, but fixing the issue left Carpenter 12 laps off the pace.
Three laps later, the brake rotor on the right front wheel of James Davison’s Honda began to glow bright red. The heat blew the brake and wheel assembly to pieces and ignited the rubber tire. The fire threatened to engulf the entire car, but security guards came to get Davison out of the car and put out the fire.
The scariest wreck happened on a restart on lap 93 when Conor Daly spun around turn 1. Behind him, rookie Oliver Askew slammed hard against the SAFER barrier on the inside wall as he tried to avoid the wreck. After Askew finally emerged from his cockpit and drove for Arrow McLaren, he sat on the side pod of his car, shaken but not seriously injured.
“I was a little shaken after that goal,” he said. “Try to avoid the accident.”
“Looked like I hit the curb so it’s up to me,” said Daly.