It’s time to finally believe in Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato


The 101st edition of the Indianapolis 500 went exactly as the motorsports experts predicted. They said a veteran driver would win. They said a driver from the five-man Andretti Autosport stable would wear the wreath. They said a Honda-powered machine would push its driver into the winner’s circle. They said a racer with Formula One pedigree would sip the milk.

Their predictions were correct, across the board. Except one. No one foresaw that the racer who would make them look so smart would at the same time make them look so wrong. They’d envisioned a Scott Dixon win from the pole or maybe an Alexander Rossi repeat or even a rookie run to the front from Fernando Alonso, the F1 world champ who skipped Monaco to spend May in Indiana.

No one envisioned that the driver to check all their predicted boxes would be Takuma Sato.

“Who is Takuma Sato? He’s a great guy and he’s clearly got a heavy right foot!” said Dario Franchitti, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion who was standing between Victory Lane and pit lane, about to intercept Sato with a bear hug and tears. “I mean, you saw what happened out there, right?”

What happened was that Sato, a 40-year-old, Tokyo-born journeyman who is four-plus years removed from his lone IndyCar victory, rocketed into the lead around another three-time 500 winner, Helio Castroneves, with less than five laps remaining. Then he held off a handful of Castroneves counterattacks, becoming the 69th winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by an eyeblink margin of .2011 of a second.

“Until three laps to go, you really didn’t know,” Sato breathlessly explained, having just been mauled by Franchitti and preparing to climb aboard the convertible that would carry his milk-stained self for one more much slower lap around the 2.5-mile rectangle. “Me and Helio were side by side with three laps to go. At that point you say to yourself, there is no other solution here but to go flat out.”