Takuma Sato on Sunday became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500, in a race that featured a horrific crash involving the driver who started from the pole position.
In the 101st running of the iconic U.S. auto race in the midwestern state of Indiana, Sato passed three-time winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil in the closing laps of the 200-lap drive around the oval track, and held on to win by the slim margin of two-tenths of a second.
“Unbelievable feeling!” a jubilant Sato, 40, declared. Five years ago, the Japanese driver had a great chance to win the prestigious event, but on the final lap collided with eventual champion Dario Franchitti of Scotland.
“He drove unbelievable,” said Michael Andretti, head of the team Sato drives for, Andretti Autosport.
“I couldn’t do what he was doing (on the closing laps),” said Castroneves, who barely avoided two crashes.
The most horrific crash involved pole sitter Scott Dixon of New Zealand, the 2008 Indy 500 winner. With just over a quarter of the 500-mile (805 km) race completed, Briton Jay Howard’s car made contact with the outside wall after turn one and slid down into Dixon’s.
Dixon’s car was sent flying and sliding sideways on the inside safety barrier, flames shooting out as the back end of the car was ripped away. Miraculously, Dixon climbed out of the race car and walked away, as did Howard.
“I’m a little beaten up there. It was a bit of a rough ride,” said Dixon.
Sunday’s race featured 35 lead changes among a race record 15 drivers.
Twenty-two-year-old rookie Ed Jones of Britain placed third, and last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi of the United States, ended up seventh. The only female driver in the annual event, Pippa Mann of Britain, climbed from 28th at the start and overcame a pit stop penalty to finish 17th in the 33-car field.