Indy 500: Takuma Sato wins race for second time in four years

Formula 1
Takuma Sato

Japanese ex-Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato won the Indianapolis 500 as Fernando Alonso’s hopes faded not long after half distance.

Alonso was 15th when he lost a lap to a car problem with 75 laps to go. The double world champion, who returns to F1 in 2021, finished 21st.

Sato was leading from Scott Dixon when a crash with three laps left forced the race to finish behind the safety car.

Dixon led 111 of the 200 laps but Sato passed him after the final pit stops.

It was the 43-year-old’s second Indy 500 win, after his maiden victory in 2017.

Dixon, a five-time Indycar champion who won Indy in 2008, was second, from Sato’s Rahal Letterman team-mate Graham Rahal.

Alonso’s hopes of becoming only the second man after Graham Hill to win motorsport’s ‘triple crown’ of Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indy 500 will now have to be put on hold for at least the next two years.

The 39-year-old Spaniard is returning to F1 with Renault in 2021 and 2022 and his contract with the French team forbids him racing at Indy.

Alonso qualified in 26th place for the Indy 500, his fortunes affected by a crash late on the penultimate day of practice, when he lost control at Turn Four after running too low on the banked superspeedway oval.

He had been running competitively during the first two days of practice up to that point but his McLaren SP car lost pace after the accident, through the final day of practice, two days of qualifying and the final day’s preparation on Friday.

This is a common phenomenon experienced by drivers at Indianapolis, and one of the well-known mysteries of the historic track, when a theoretically identical rebuilt car simply does not have the performance it had before the crash.

Despite that, Alonso was running less than 10 seconds off the lead when a clutch problem immediately after a pit stop during one of the race’s seven safety-car periods required a second stop immediately afterwards and put him a lap behind, effectively ending his already slim hopes.

Out front, Dixon was in imperious form in his Ganassi car in the first half of the race, taking the lead at the start around the outside of the pole-sitter Marco Andretti and controlling the race from there.

For a time, Andretti driver Alexander Rossi had appeared his closest challenger, but Sato was always in the frame and stepped up his challenge as the race entered its final third.

Rossi, who made five F1 starts for the now-defunct Marussia team in 2014 and 2015, was taken out of the reckoning when he was given a penalty for an unsafe release in the pits and forced to go to the back of the field. The American then crashed while trying to make his way back to the front.

Sato was second before the penultimate safety car period. He passed Dixon shortly afterwards, and the New Zealander did not have an answer to his pace.

Briton Jack Harvey finished ninth, British former F1 driver Max Chilton 17th and another Briton, Ben Hanley came 23rd.

Former F1 driver Marcus Ericsson, who transferred to Indycar last season, crashed before half distance.

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