INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Andretti family has struggled for decades to win the Indianapolis 500.
As a car owner, though, Michael Andretti certainly knows the way to victory lane.
Takuma Sato won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday to give Andretti a second consecutive victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” An Andretti driver has now won the 500 three times in the last four years.
Last year, it was with rookie Alexander Rossi. This time it is with Sato, who joined the team just this season and had largely been overlooked at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Andretti camp expanded to six cars for the 500 with the addition of Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.
It never seemed to spread the team too thin, and the main issue facing Andretti Autosport was the reliability of its Honda engines. Alonso put on a thrilling show and even led 27 laps — third most in the race — but the two-time Formula One champion was sent to the paddock when his engine blew with 20 laps remaining.
The Honda teams had a clear horsepower advantage over Chevrolet, but the engine maker had serious questions about reliability. Before Alonso’s failure, 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his engine. Hunter-Reay had led 28 laps and was a strong contender late.
Sato had to hold off Helio Castroneves, who was trying to win for a record-tying fourth time, in the closing laps. Castroneves, in a Chevrolet for Team Penske, briefly took the lead but couldn’t make it stick as Sato grabbed it back.
The margin of victory was 0.2011 seconds — and it was redemption for Sato, who crashed while trying to beat Dario Franchitti on the final lap of the 2012 race.
A joyful Sato dumped a bottle of 2 percent milk over his head, received a kiss from the Indy 500 Princess and raised his finger in the air.
Michael Andretti ran down pit lane to reach Sato’s crew, then rushed to victory lane to hug his driver, the first Japanese winner of the Indy 500.
“It was a tough, tough, race. Helio really drives well,” Sato said. “It was a fantastic race.”
As for the difference between 2012, when Sato crashed in the first turn of the final lap racing Franchitti, Sato said his strategy this year was perfect.
“I was pointing in the right direction into (Turn) One,” he said.
Castroneves was disappointed to fall short of the four-time winners club.
“I really thought we had it,” the Brazilian said.
Max Chilton finished third, the highest driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, and was followed by former 500 winners Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Alonso, who had a spectacular race, simply feel victim to his engine in the waning laps. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he climbed from his car.
“I felt the noise, the engine friction, I backed off and I saw the smoke and yeah, it’s a shame,” Alonso said. “It’s a very nice surprise to come here with big names, big guys, the best in open-wheel racing and be competitive.”
Pole sitter Scott Dixon, already having a rough week because he was robbed at gunpoint at Taco Bell hours after turning the fastest qualifying effort in 21 years, was knocked out of the race in a terrifying crash in which his car sailed through the air and landed cockpit-first atop the inside safety fence. Dixon’s car was split in two amid sparks and flames.
The tub of the car remained intact and the 2008 champion was able to climb out on his own to a roar from the crowd. He walked to a waiting ambulance while the race was placed under red flag and crews began to clean up debris scattered over hundreds of feet.
“Just a little beaten up there. It was definitely a rough ride,” Dixon said. “We had a great shot. We had gotten a little loose but they had dialed it in.”
Dixon had collided with Jay Howard, who blamed the incident on Hunter-Reay. He was a couple of laps down when Hunter-Reay tried to get around him and that forced him to the top of the track, where he wound up hitting the wall.
That impact sent Howard across the track, where Dixon had nowhere to go.