Three years removed from his first Indianapolis 500 win, Takuma Sato and Rahal Letterman Lanigan had hopes of repeating that same victory of what was an unusual Indy 500. Sato was the least talked about heading into Sunday’s race. Most of the talk was centered around last year’s race winner Simon Pagenaud who was looking to repeat, and famous racing star Marco Andretti who qualified on the pole breaking a streak of 30 plus years since the last time an Andretti was on the front row.
There was one driver that Sato had to beat late in the going and that was New Zealander Scott Dixon, who in the latter stages of the race had the fastest car of anyone. Sato made his move after the last round of green flag pit stops, and passed Dixon on the front straightaway with 15 to go. From there, all he had to do was hold the Chip Ganassi Racing driver off, and make sure there were no mistakes. Despite lap traffic in the way, Sato held the lead for those final 15 laps in what would be his second Indianapolis 500 victory.
“Obviously, we pitted (a lap) short from (Scott Dixon) Dixie,” Sato said. “The fuel strategy was a bit tight. I saw Scott was coming right through out of Turn 4, and he was screaming coming at me. And I just held him off. Thank you so much.” About winning at age 43, he said, “This was the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. HPD and Honda gave us a lot of power, a lot of fuel mileage, and my boys. They sacrifice a lot. I can’t thank all of the people.”
The 2020 Indy 500 will be one to remember for a very long time. This was the first time in years that the event was held with no fans due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, Roger Penske (Owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NTT IndyCar Series) had hoped the speedway would host a 50% capacity. However, as the event drew closer, the number dwindled to 25%, and eventually, Mr. Penske was forced to run the race without fans due to Indiana’s state regulations regarding the virus.
Nonetheless, the Indy 500 carried on and as usual was an exciting 200-lap event.
Pole sitter Marco Andretti started out front but was quickly passed by Scott Dixon in his No. 9 DHL Honda machine. Dixon was looking for his second Indy 500 victory. There was some tight action on the very first lap as well. Ed Carpenter in his own No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry made contact with the Turn 1 wall. Carpenter would have to come down pit road for service and fix the front wing due to a potentially broken a-arm.
Not too long after the incident, the first yellow flag would fly for James Davison in the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing vehicle. Davison’s right-front tire exploded on the backstretch, causing him to slow dramatically and eventually, his right-front would catch on fire. Fortunately for Davison, he exited out of the car under his own power, but was out early and credited with a last-place finish. Under the caution, multiple drivers were already using differing pit strategies. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Fernando Alonso, Helio Castroneves, Sage Karam and Max Chilton, among a few others, made a pit stop.
Back up front, Dixon led the field to the Lap 12 restart and there was a 13 lap green-flag run before the second caution flew on Lap 25. Marcus Ericsson’s No. 8 entry got loose going into Turn 1 and hit one of the SAFER barriers. Like Davison, Ericsson’s race was done early, and he would wind up finishing 32nd in the running order. During that same yellow, the leaders, including Dixon, made their first pit stop of the race. By doing so, this put the drivers who made a pit stop earlier up front. Meaning, rookie of the year contender Oliver Askew was the leader. But, Pagenaud took the top spot and led until his second stop on Lap 45.
While Pagenaud pitted, Dixon cycled into the lead again and was out in front of Alexander Rossi by less than a second.
The race seemed as though it would enter a long green-flag run, running approximately 52 laps. Pit stops also took place during that run and almost every driver was on a different type of strategy. However, Dixon continued to set the pace, even after his stop. Before the caution flag on Lap 83, Sato saw his first moments near the leader as Dixon led him by a whopping margin of 11 seconds.
As mentioned, the yellow on Lap 83 slowed things down a bit, and Dalton Kellett in the No. 41 made contact with the Turn 3 wall. There was also a scary incident between Conor Daly and rookie Oliver Askew that ensued at Lap 92 off the restart. Daly’s car hit the concrete off Turn 4 which made him spin out and damage his No. 47 vehicle. Then Askew took a hard hit on the inside pit lane wall just before the entry off pit road. Despite the hard hit, both drivers were uninjured after the incident. Even so, Askew mentioned in his interview to NBC, that ‘he was a little shaken up from the crash.’
Then from Lap 106 to Lap 122, an exciting battle for the lead ensued between competitors Rossi and Dixon. The pair of drivers swapped the lead multiple times on each of those laps. Dixon would fall behind Rossi to save fuel in second, while Rossi led the race. The two drivers used the same strategy back and forth until a yellow on Lap 122. The caution was for another rookie Alex Palou. The Spanish native made contact with a SAFER barrier by the end of Turn 1. Palou’s No. 55 received right-side damage and unable to continue the race.
Meanwhile, things heated up on pit road that impacted Indy 500 winner Sato. Rossi’s Andretti AutoSport entry had an unsafe release and he slightly hit Sato’s car when leaving his pit box. Two other drivers also had issues with the same move, as Ferrucci and Herta had contact with each other as well. Unfortunately for Rossi, he received a penalty from IndyCar Series officials for that unsafe release and was sent to the back of the field.
On the initial restart, Rossi passed five cars but his momentum and efforts were crushed on Lap 144 when his No. 27 NAPA AutoParts Honda got loose off Turn 2 and hit the backstretch wall. Rossi would be scored out of the race and credited with a 27th place finishing position.
After the yellow, Sato passed Dixon on Lap 160, a few laps before he made his final green flag pit stop. Sato happened to make his pit stop one lap earlier then Dixon and while Sato had a clean stop, Dixon had a somewhat slow pit stop, which allowed Sato to close in on the back straightaway.
With Dixon trying to hold off Sato when the laps started to wind down, leaders Zach Veach and Max Chilton were hoping for a caution that would have favored them. Unfortunately, they had to make a pit stop, giving the top two spots to Dixon and Sato. Once Veach pitted, Sato inherited the lead and just had to focus on his race pace.
There were a few last chance hopes though for Dixon when lap traffic started to get in the way. But, once Sato cleared them he checked out by 1.1 seconds. With four laps to go, Sato’s winning moment came as his teammate Spencer Pigot, unfortunately, hit the tire barriers prior to entering pit road. There were not enough laps or time for IndyCar to display the red flag and therefore, Sato won his second Indy 500 under yellow flag conditions.
The Japanese driver became the sixth oldest driver to win at 43-years, six months, and 26 days old. In addition, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing achieved their second Indy 500 victory as well. Sato became the 20th different driver to have two race wins of the Indy 500.
Dixon finished second for the third time in his first Indy 500 outing since 2012.
“This is a hard one to swallow,” Dixon said. “On fuel mileage, I really can’t see how they were going to make it. We pitted a lap later, and the numbers they had to get, it was going to be very difficult. I thought they were going to throw a red flag, which would have been interesting for the last four or five laps. Huge congrats to Sato. He drove his pants off today. Rahal Letterman Lanigan, they were super fast, obviously 1-3. A good day for Honda. A massive thank you. Proud to be powered by HPD and Honda, and it’s nice to get some points. But it’s hard when it slips away like that.”
A few other notables, Pigot was transported to a local hospital, and was awake and alert.
Pato O’ Ward earned the Rookie of the Race award by being the highest finishing rookie placing sixth.
There were seven cautions for 52 laps and 21 lead changes among 11 different leaders. Sato led twice for 27 laps en route to his sixth career NTT IndyCar Series victory.
Official Results following the 2020 Indy 500.
- Takuma Sato, led 27 laps
- Scott Dixon, led 111 laps
- Graham Rahal
- Santino Ferrccui, led one lap
- Josef Newgarden
- Pato O’Ward
- James Hinchcliffe, led one lap
- Colton Herta, led one lap
- Jack Harvey
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Helio Castroneves
- Felix Rosenqvist, led eight laps
- Marco Andretti
- Will Power, led two laps
- Zach Veach, led 14 laps
- JR Hildebrand
- Max Chilton
- Charlie Kimball
- Tony Kanaan, 1 lap down
- Rinus VeeKay, 1 lap down
- Fernando Alonso, 1 lap down
- Simon Pagenaud, 2 laps down, led 14 laps
- Ben Hanley 2 laps down
- Sage Karam, 2 laps down
- Spencer Pigot, OUT, Accident
- Ed Carpenter
- Alexander Rossi, OUT, Contact, led 17 laps
- Alex Palou, OUT, Contact
- Conor Daly, OUT, Contact
- Oliver Askew, OUT, Contact, led led four laps
- Dalton Kellett, OUT, Contact
- Marcus Ericsson, OUT, Contact
- James Davison, OUT, Mechanical
Up Next: The NTT IndyCar Series heads to World Wide Technology at Gateway on Saturday, August 29, with NBCSN on the air at 3 p.m. ET.