Japanese driver Takuma Sato is the 2020 Indianapolis 500 champion after a late-race caution saw the 104th running of the event end under caution on Sunday afternoon (Aug. 23).
Sato held off a hard charge from Scott Dixon prior to the final cation flag to claim his second win on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
“This is unbelievable… We did [hold Dixon back]. We lapped short from Dixie, and we knew the fuel strategy was a little tight,” Takuma Sato told NBC with a smile on his face in victory circle. “I couldn’t use max power, so I had to go back and forth. Scott was screaming off turn 4. Just … thank you so much. The entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team, the Honda team, did an incredible job. Gave us a lot of power.”
Marco Andretti led the field to the green flag in his No. 98 Andretti Autosport machine from pole position, but both Dixon and Sato passed Andretti on the outside heading into the first corner. Dixon almost immediately pulled out into the lead, and Zach Veach put Ed Carpenter into the wall, leaving the latter driver to pull into the pits right at the start. By lap 5, Ryan Hunter-Reay passed Sato, proving that passing would be a factor in the race.
James Davison had a right front tire light on fire and then explode, with the rest of the car soon lighting on fire. The incident by the Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing driver brought out the first caution of the day on lap 6. The first round of pit stops started on lap 9 as soon as the pits opened during that yellow flag. Every car that stopped was a Chevrolet, most of whom started in the rear third of the field.
A bizarre end to James Davison's chances of an #Indy500 win.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 23, 2020
The restart came on lap 13 with a heated battle between James Hinchcliffe, Rinus Veekay and Alexander Rossi for fifth place, along with big battles throughout the field. Veekay’s driving was aggressive, as he attempted to defend his impressive starting position. Meanwhile, Dixon still looked strong at the front of the field.
A second yellow came out on lap 25, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson heavily crashing into the wall exiting turn 1. Yet again, most of the grid dipped into the pit lane, with Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe nearly crashing in the race off pit road.
“I’m not sure,” Ericsson said about what went wrong. “The car was feeling really, really good. It was on rails, and we were making progress on that first stint. It took me by surprise, the rear coming out on me. I really felt like we had a car to fight for the win today.”
Marcus Ericsson's chances of an #Indy500 win today are gone.
He'll have to wait until 2021 for another go. Here's what happened. pic.twitter.com/LsWYO1Z28v
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) August 23, 2020
Oliver Askew led the field to green on lap 32 with Simon Pagenaud immediately sweeping into the lead. The Chevy cars that had pitted at the initial stop bunched up at the front, leaving the Hondas to duke it out in the rear of the field. Santino Ferrucci was one of the big movers at the start of the second restart, making risky outside passes to improve his position.
Pagenaud displayed incredible speed once he got out into clean air, but he and Askew quickly came into the pits, with Askew beating the Team Penske driver out of the pits. Veekay struggled in the pits, stalling the car. Rossi also missed pit road and had to come around for another lap. Sage Karam missed his own pit box. As pit strategy evened out, Dixon came back to the lead.
.@AlexanderRossi MISSED PIT LANE.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 23, 2020
On lap 85, a third caution flew as Indy 500 rookie Dalton Kellett crashed into the wall, having washed up into Ben Hanley‘s dirty air. It also seemed as if his brake rotor blew in a similar fashion to Davison’s. Hinchcliffe appeared to stall or fail to get into gear during a stop during the yellow.
The green flag flew only for Conor Daly and Askew to immediately crash coming to the line. Daly lost control first, spinning near pit lane, with Askew then losing control in his smoke. Askew crashed hard into the wall, then crashed into Daly’s car. It was a hard hit for Askew, but both drivers were able to climb out of their cars.
“It was like my left front tire fell into a hole,” Daly said after being released from the infield care center.
“I think I got the wind knocked out of me and banged up my knee a little bit,” Askew said. “We had a good run there. … In the accident there, I saw a bunch of smoke in front of me and tried to avoid Helio [Castroneves].”
— Indianapolis Motor Speedway (@IMS) August 23, 2020
The green flew again just after the halfway mark, on lap 101. Dixon led the field with Rossi soon inheriting the lead after the New Zealander opted to start saving fuel. The latter half of the race appeared to be more of a chess match than a race, with both leading drivers knowing that they’d struggle to make it to the end. Patricio O’Ward in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP fought his way up to third.
Another caution came out on lap 122 after Alex Palou crashed. He ran high coming out of turn one and hit the wall in a very similar fashion to Ericsson’s crash. Coming off pit lane during a round of yellow flag stops, Rossi and Sato made contact, along with Ferrucci and Colton Herta. Rossi sustained a penalty and was forced to restart at the back of the field.
Racing started again on lap 131, with Rossi immediately gobbling up several positions in the field while Dixon moved to the front of the pack once again. Pagenaud wiggled and tapped the wall, which required a front wing change. Meanwhile, Graham Rahal made his way up into the top three.
On lap 145, Rossi’s hard-charging moves saw him hit the wall and bring out another yellow flag. This brought the worst ever finish for Rossi at IMS, who had finished in seventh or better prior to this year.
Dixon and Sato were in a great position coming into the restart, as drivers bunched up further down the field. Josef Newgarden made his name known for the first time in the race with less than 50 laps to go while Sato pulled into the lead.
Final pit stops for most teams came with about 30 laps to go, giving them enough fuel to go until the end. Again, Dixon and Sato were the two main challengers. Sato struggled with lapped traffic but managed to pad a nice gap after passing Tony Kanaan.
But with five laps remaining, Spencer Pigot had a hard crash, bringing out the final yellow flag. He was helped out of the car by the AMR safety team — a promising sight after his car essentially disintegrated after striking the pit entry wall. Still, he required a careful look due to the intensity of the hit.
The race finished under yellow with Sato taking the win. Dixon came in second with Rahal in third.
Pigot was confirmed to be awake and alert but was transported to a different hospital for further evaluation.
“Takuma ran hard all day long. In the end, when we ran up against that traffic, I worried they’d pile things up. Takuma got through it really good. … He got just enough of a gap, and that’s all it took,” Takuma’s team co-owner Bobby Rahal said after the race.
Dixon noted that his second place was a tough pill to swallow and that his hesitation allowed Sato to take the lead.
While his first Indy 500 win was for Andretti Autosport, the Japanese driver proved that he can make any equipment work for him. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that, of Sato’s now-six overall IndyCar wins, two of those are at the Indy 500. More so, Sato became the first driver to win a 500 that took place outside of the month of May.