Sato was beside himself with joy. In 2012 he was running second behind Dario Franchitti. As he attempted to pass Franchitti into Turn 1, Sato spun and crashed out. Franchitti won the race and Sato would be classified 17th. Not so today: Sato became the first Japanese driver to ever win the Indy 500 and he did it in his typical balls to the wall style. Unlike in years past, Sato was able to make it work, tempering his aggression with experience and finally putting himself in Victory Lane.
Sato has had a tough career. His races, dating all the way back to the Jordan F1 team, have been riddled with over ambitious moves that resulted in wadded up race cars. But there have been flashes of brilliance. He scored consistent points in 2004 for BAR Honda. He scored the only points the plucky Super Aguri F1 team ever saw (and one wonders what might have been had Super Aguri survived to 2009. Most people don’t know that the 2009 Wolr Championship winning Brawn BGP 001 started its life in 2007 at Super Aguri. If history had been slightly different, there is a very real possibility that Takuma Sato, and not Jenson Button, would have been the world champ in ‘09). Sato’s bold attempt at Indy in 2012 caught the eye of AJ Foyt: Sato spent three years with Foyt, winning the 2013 Long Beach GP. The move for Foyt to Chevy left Sato, a life-long Honda driver, without a racing seat. Sato has found a new home with Andretti Autosport, one that has already produced results. Sato has clearly earned the respect of Foyt: AJ came over to congratulate Sato in Victory Circle after his win. I’m pretty sure that has NEVER happened before.
In typical Japense style, Sato was reserved in his words, but his face said it all. Indy means a lot to him. It has always been one of his better tracks. In fact, his only F1 podium came at the 2004 USGP, held on the road course at Indy.
Sato and his team were ecstatic about winning the 500. The Number 26 team hasn’t seen victory often and this was their first time winning at Indy. Not so for team owner Michael Andretti. He of course won last year with Rossi, as well as in 2014 with RHR.
Meanwhile in 2nd, Castroneves was an unhappy man. This is the second time in three years he has been mere feet from winning his elusive fourth 500. He was deflated, but gracious, giving Sato a thumb’s up as Sato drove past. Behind him, Ed Jones, in his rookie appearance, landed 3rd for Dale Coyne racing. Chilton came home 4th, with Kanaan 5th and Montoya 6th in only his second race of the year. In 7th was Rossi, hampered by a poor final pitstop, Marco Andretti in 8th, Gabby Chaves (driving for the brand new Harding Racing team) in an impressive 9th, and Carlos Munoz rounding out the top 10.