Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Two Times for Takuma: Sato Wins 2020 Indianapolis 500

Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski
 


The Indianapolis 500 ran for its 104th time in history under less than traditional circumstances for 2020. Held on a date in late August without any fans in the stands, the open wheel race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval operated in a less than traditional way. However, the combination of the national anthem and “Back Home Again in Indiana” being sung, track owner Roger Penske gave the command to start engines and the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Pace Car took a 33-car field off pit lane towards the green flag provided an illusion close to the typical Memorial weekend 200-lap contest.

Becoming the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, Takuma Sato is now in the illustrious company of multiple winners of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Taking the lead of the 500-mile race on lap 185, Sato fended off charges from New Zealand native Scott Dixon through the late laps until a caution on lap 196 solidified his place in victory lane for the 2020 event. 

Sato piloted his #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-owned Honda-powered Dallara to his second time at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval. “This was the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. HPD and Honda gave us a lot of power, a lot fuel mileage, and my boys. They sacrifice a lot. I can’t thank all of the people.”, said Sato as the PeopleReady-sponsored sat in the new, elevated victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski


With 21 lead changes over 200 laps, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 field started with Marco Andretti serving as the pole sitter. Despite positioned in the top spot, the #98 US Concrete car of Andretti would not lead a single lap in the race. Completing the full distance of the Indy 500, Marco Andretti finished in 13th place.

The 33-car thinned quickly when on lap 4 the #51 car of James Davidson suffered an unusual mechanical issue as the front right wheel quickly erupted in fire. One of seven caution periods during the 104th Indianapolis 500, it’s fortunate to note that Davidson as well as the drivers involved in subsequent matters requiring a yellow flag did not suffer serious injuries. More serious accidents on track occurred on lap 92 and lap 196. The lap 92 incident took place as the field was returning to green after the cleanup for the #41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises car of Dalton Kellett. Conor Daly’s #47 Ed Carpenter Racing vehicle went for a spun coming off of turn four causing a tire smoke screen that led to Indy 500 rookie Oliver Askew also losing control. Askew’s #7 Arrow McLaren SP race car spun on cold tires and collided into the inside wall ahead of pit lane. The accident ended the day for both Daly and Askew.


Photo Credit: Chris Jones


What was the final caution for this year’s race, 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot suffered a scary-looking crash. Spinning in turn 4, the driver of #45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing hit the turn’s SAFER barrier before continuing down the front stretch before colliding with the soft barrier at the pit road entry. Spencer Pigot was taken to a local hospital following his severe crash but was discharged later on Sunday night.  

Though Takuma Sato captured the glory of the Borg-Warner Trophy by crossing the finish line first after 500 miles, Scott Dixon commanded much of this year’s open wheel classic at the Brickyard. The #9 Chip Ganassi Racing car and driver held the lead for 111 laps. At lap 80, Dixon had pulled out a 10.945-second lead over the second place position prior to a caution for Canadian driver Dalton Kellett’s impact with the wall. 

The start of the second half of the 2020 Indianapolis 500, Scott Dixon was in a heated but well-orchestrated battle with Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi. Unfortunately, a pit road incident on lap 124 ended hope of seeing more of the #9 PNC Bank and #27 NAPA/AutoNation cars fighting towards the end of the race. Officials ruled the Andretti Autosport team performed an unsafe release with Alexander Rossi’s race placing the 2016 Indy 500 winner to the rear of the field. Although Rossi made some impressive moves to climb back up the race order early into a run, he lost control of his #27 car on lap 144 concluding a 2020 attempt for victory. 


Photo Credit: James Black


For Scott Dixon, his chances to claim a third Indianapolis 500 win were quashed with Spencer Pigot’s late crash. With four laps remaining, the NTT IndyCar Series allowed the race to run to the chequered flag under the yellow flag. Many fans and even race commentators may have preferred that a red flag would have been shown potentially setting up a final short sprint to the finish where Scott Dixon may have challenged Takuma Sato. Dixon does leave the Indy 500 with the perk of having a massive lead in the 2020 drivers’ standings 84 points ahead of Josef Newgarden.

After showing supremacy on Indy 500 Pole Day, Honda engines made a similarly strong performance in the race. Honda-powered entrants led 179 of the 200 laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and propelled the top-four finishers in the 2020 Indianapolis 500. Behind Sato and Dixon, Graham Rahal brought his #15 car to a third place result tying his best effort in the event. Racing for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan for his second Indy 500, last year’s rookie of the race Santino Ferrucci crossed the line in fourth with Honda power.

Purchasing the NTT IndyCar Series as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway late last year, Roger Penske may have witnessed one of his race team’s weaker performances at the prestigious 500-mile race in recent history. While Simon Pagenaud led 14 laps and Will Power was out in front for two laps, Team Penske was not a true contender at the front. In the final results, the #1 car of Josef Newgarden was the most successful with fifth place but struggled to keep up to the fastest Hondas. 


Photo Credit: Chris Jones


Along other notable finishers of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 includes Patricio O’Ward who finished sixth in his first outing at the great race. O’Ward’s performance in the #5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet was good enough to secure the prize of Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. One spot behind the Mexican rookie in the race results was James Hinchcliffe who drove the #29 Gensys car to 7th place recorded as the highest finish among the Andretti Autosport entries. This race is likely to be Hinchcliffe’s final NTT IndyCar Series appearance for the 2020 season as he was intended to only run a three-race stint. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves made his 19th career start in the great race in a one-off drive with Team Penske. Qualifying in 28th place (his deepest grid position ever in the 500-mile race) Castroneves took his #3 car to a respectable 11th place finishing spot. Making his third and potentially final attempt at a triple crown in motorsports (consisting of the Indy 500, 24 Hour of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix), Fernando Alonso competed with a McLaren-affiliated team once more. Alonso crossed the line in the #66 Arrow McLaren SP car in one lap down in 21st place. Attracting a lot of buzz during his attempts to win the Indianapolis 500, the two-time Formula 1 world champion signed a deal in July that will see him return to Renault’s F1 team. Renault is unwilling to allow Alonso to compete in the Indianapolis 500 into the future since the traditional Indy 500 date falls on Formula 1's Monaco Grand Prix. 

Overall, the 104th Indianapolis 500 concluded as a successful race despite the many challenges due to the COVID-19 global health pandemic. A competitive, safe event, the absence of fans was definitely notable as Takuma Sato celebrated his win. With the completion of the 2020 race, there is much hope that the 2021 race could be triumphant return to a traditional format.  


2020 Indianapolis 500
NTT IndyCar Series
Race Results