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Takuma Sato becomes first Japanese driver to win Indy 500

By
The Sports Xchange
Takuma Sato hoists the traditional bottle of milk Sunday after winning the 2017 Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI
Takuma Sato hoists the traditional bottle of milk Sunday after winning the 2017 Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- This time, Takuma Sato did it.

The Japanese driver lost the 2012 race to Dario Franchitti with a failed last-lap passing attempt, but Sunday he got even with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, holding off Helio Castroneves for the victory.

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Sato became the first driver from his country to win Indy.

Sato, 40, also became the fifth different driver to win the 500 for Andretti Autosport. The others were Dan Wheldon, Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi.

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Castroneves finished second for the third time in his career. He was bidding to become the event's fourth four-time winner, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Rookie Ed Jones finished third.

Sato took the lead with six laps to go and withstood Castroneves' final passing attempt 2 1/2 laps from the finish of the 200-lap race.

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"I know Helio always comes on the charge," Sato said. "But he's such a gentleman (and) such a fair player. I believe him. We (went) side-by-side in Turn 1. It was job done.

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"The last two laps the car worked beautifully."

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso delivered a masterful performance -- a masterful first Indianapolis 500 experience -- until his Honda engine failed on Lap 179. Alonso led 27 laps after qualifying fifth. He finished 24th.

RELATED 2017 Indianapolis 500: Sebastien Bourdais leaves hospital after Indy crash

Honda's engine woes also kicked aside Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie Kimball, but it had eight other failures during the month, including the IndyCar Grand Prix, a road race held at IMS.

"Obviously disappointed not to finish the race because obviously every race you compete, you want to be at the checkered flag," Alonso said. "It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500, you know. I was passing, watching the tower, (saw my number) on top of it. I was thinking at that moment that someone from the team was taking a picture because I want that picture at home."

Pole sitter Scott Dixon survived a wild crash on Lap 53, launching over the back of Jay Howard's wounded car and flying through the air. After running into the back of Howard's car, which had drifted into the wall in Turn 1, Dixon's car careened to the inside wall, hitting massively hard with the right side of the cockpit.

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What happened after that was more than can properly be explained. Pieces went flying in a manner that would suggest Dixon could be hurt as the car was destroyed, but thanks to the safety measures brought into the sport in recent years, Dixon didn't appear to be injured, although later in the race he returned to the med.

"It was a wild ride, for sure," the 2008 500 winner and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver said after exiting the track's medical center. "You just hold on and let the safety (do its job)."

Dixon said he couldn't have avoided Howard's car.

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"I'd already picked that way to go," he said.

Howard was a lap down when the incident unfolded. He first let one car past, then another, but he felt Ryan Hunter-Reay didn't give him enough room approaching the corner. Howard's right-side tires got into the leftover tire rubber in the high groove and that lack of traction put him on the path to the wall.

Howard's contact with the wall wasn't all that significant, but the damage to his steering was significant enough that he couldn't keep the car out of Dixon's path. Howard was not injured.

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The other amazing part of the incident was that Castroneves drove under Dixon's car while it was in the air. Castroneves' car took some light damage to its left rear, but Team Penske was able to make repairs during the ensuing pit stop.

Castroneves caught a second break shortly after the restart. Conor Daly's car shot to the outside wall after the car wiggled trying to pass Charlie Kimball in Turn 3. Debris from Daly's car bounced on the track and was struck by the trailing car of race rookie Jack Harvey.

Castroneves got a dose of bad luck moments later when race control issued a drive-through pit road penalty for passing a car prior to the green flag waving. The penalty dropped him to the end of the line, which was 26th place, but he regained track position with strategy and another caution.

Buddy Lazier, the '96 winner and the oldest driver in the field, crashed in Turn 2 on Lap 122. The race was his 20th in the event.

Up until Lap 137, Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 race winner, had led the most laps (28). But he lost an engine, the first for the Hondas to expire. Honda had such a problem during the practice sessions. Hunter-Reay was running third at the time of the failure, stalking teammates Alonso and Rossi.

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On a restart 17 laps from the finish, James Davison and Oriol Servia made enough contact to send them both out of control. Both hit the wall and then each other to ignite a chain reaction. Trailing those two, Will Power hit James Hinchcliffe, and Josef Newgarden spun. None were injured, but each car was retired.

NOTES: Veteran driver Sebastien Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a broken right hip in qualifying last weekend, attended the race on crutches. He went to the infield medical center to check on Dixon after his crash, just as Dixon had visited him in the hospital. ... The crowd wasn't as large as last year's 100th running, but it was believed to be larger than the 99th running in 2015. Estimates were at 300,000. ... After a month of action at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the series moves to Detroit for next weekend's doubleheader at Detroit's Belle Isle Park.

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