Sato sur­vives a day of crashes

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JERRY GAR­RETT

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS — Takuma Sato of Tokyo held off He­lio Cas­tron­eves, a three-time win­ner, in a stir­ring duel to the fin­ish Sun­day in the 101st run­ning of the In­di­anapo­lis 500, a bat­tle lit­tered with crashes that de­stroyed mil­lions of dol­lars worth of race cars. No se­ri­ous in­juries were re­ported.

Sato, a 40-year-old for­mer For­mula 1 driver with just one pre­vi­ous vic­tory in IndyCar rac­ing, is the first In­di­anapo­lis 500 win­ner from Ja­pan. He nearly won here in 2012 when he chal­lenged the even­tual win­ner Dario Fran­chitti for the lead at the fin­ish but spun out. His pre­vi­ous best fin­ish in the race was 13th.

Ed Jones came in third, just be­hind Cas­tron­eves, who was a mere three car lengths from Sato at the check­ered flag. Max Chilton was fourth, and Tony Kanaan fifth.

Sato, one of six driv­ers in the race for the po­tent Honda-pow­ered Andretti team, was per­haps the least her­alded part of a lineup that in­cluded For­mula 1 star Fer­nando Alonso, for­mer Indy champ Ryan Hunter-Reay and star-crossed Marco Andretti.

But Sato, who passed Cas­tron­eves for the lead with just two laps to go, would not be de­nied.

“Un­be­liev­able,” Sato said in Vic­tory Cir­cle. “He­lio is just a gen­tle­man, and I knew I was rac­ing against a real cham­pion. When He­lio came up be­side me with three laps to go, I de­cided this was the mo­ment and I just had to go for it.”

A five-car, chain-re­ac­tion mashup with just 17 cir­cuits left in the 200-lap race around the In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way oval took out top con­tenders Will Power, Josef New­gar­den, Oriel Servia, James Hinch­cliffe and James David­son. It also set up the fran­tic fight to the fin­ish.

The race was briefly stopped in the early go­ing after a death-de­fy­ing crash in­volv­ing the top qual­i­fier, Scott Dixon. Dixon, the 2008 Indy win­ner and a four-time IndyCar cham­pion, was able to hob­ble away from the shat­tered re­mains of his car with­out a se­ri­ous in­jury. “I re­ally thought we had it,” Cas­tron­eves said. “I think I bent the throt­tle, I pressed it so hard. I bumped Sato’s car a few times. That thing must be in­de­struc­tible.”

Cas­tron­eves was lucky to be in the race at all, at that point.

The pace was un­remit­tingly fu­ri­ous for the first quar­ter of the race, but then Jay Howard’s car bounced off the out­side wall, came across the track and col­lected the trail­ing ma­chine of Dixon.

Dixon’s car was launched high into the air, and it seemed to float mo­men­tar­ily, un­til it landed broad­side on the in­side guardrail. Dur­ing its hang time, Cas­tron­eves ac­tu­ally drove his car un­der Dixon’s; he sped by in the in­field grass with­out in­cur­ring a scratch.

Dixon’s car lost its en­gine and rear wheel assem­bly in the first big im­pact, and then most every­thing else ex­cept for the driver’s safety cap­sule be­fore it stopped tum­bling. Nei­ther driver was se­ri­ously hurt.

“I’m fine,” Dixon said after a manda­tory checkup at the in­field hos­pi­tal. If any­one ex­pected his ar­dour to be damp­ened by such a crash, Dixon quickly dis­pelled all doubts, say­ing, “I can’t wait to come back next year.”

CHRIS GRAYTHEN, GETTY IMAGES

Scott Dixon of New Zealand leads the field dur­ing the 101st In­di­anapo­lis 500 at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor­speed­way on Sun­day be­fore more than 300,000 peo­ple.

CHRIS GRAYTHEN, GETTY IMAGES

Takuma Sato of Ja­pan, driver of the #26 Andretti Au­tosport Honda, cel­e­brates after win­ning the 101st In­di­anapo­lis 500.

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