INDIANAPOLIS — On the verge of running out of fuel, Takuma Sato was instead able to hold on to win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for the second time in his career, this one over a frustrated Scott Dixon as the 2020 race finished under caution.
“With our fuel strategy, we knew we would be a little tight at the end,” said Sato, who became the only Japanese driver to win the Indy 500 with his first victory three years ago. “That’s why I had to weave back and forth, to try to hold off Scott.” His evasive tactics managed to barely keep him in front, until a late crash ended the duel and caused the race to finish at a crawl, under a caution flag.
“This is hard to swallow,” said Dixon, the 2008 winner of the race. “I didn’t see how Takuma could make it on fuel. If the race would have gone the distance, or if they would have thrown the red flag and stopped the race while they cleaned up the track, I think he would have run out of fuel on the final lap. It would have been interesting, to be sure.”
It was Dixon’s third runner-up finish, all coming in races that finished under caution.
“We knew their fuel situation, and I guess they just decided to go for it at the end and see if they could hold on through some miracle,” added Dixon, who is from New Zealand. “They got their miracle.”
Sato, 43, who ran in the top three most of the race, could not get his Honda-powered Dallara into the lead until the final quarter of the race. He then traded the lead multiple times with Dixon, who led a race-high 111 of the 200 laps, until taking command for the final time with 28 laps left.
Although Dixon was only one second behind with five laps remaining and appeared to have the power needed to retake the lead, Spencer Pigot crashed into the pit entry tire wall, spraying debris all over the track. Pigot was taken to an Indianapolis hospital for treatment.
The race could not continue with the extent of the damage to the tire barrier, and officials decided to finish the event under caution, rather than stop the event, fix the damage and attempt to restart the race with two laps left.
Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate, Graham Rahal, was scored third. Santino Ferrucci was fourth, followed by Josef Newgarden, in the highest finished, Chevrolet-powered car. The fastest qualifier for the race, Marco Andretti, faded late in the race and came in 13th.
Dixon, a five-time series champ who is in his 19th season with the Chip Ganassi team, looked like the man to beat from the drop of the green flag. Starting second, he immediately took the lead from Andretti and drove away. But Sato, who started third, managed to keep Dixon within sight.
Dixon’s strongest challenger appeared to be the 2016 Indy winner, Alexander Rossi, who traded the top spot with Dixon a number of times until a pit road collision with Sato on the 126th lap. Officials ruled the contact an “unsafe release” by Rossi’s team after his pit stop, and ordered Rossi to drop from second to the rear of the field. Starting 21st, Rossi was driving at the limit, trying to catch back up when he lost control of his car on Lap 144 and crashed.
“I can’t even discuss the penalty,” said an angry Rossi, who was injured. “That is going to be the topic of a long conversation with the officials, at the appropriate time.”
The race was slowed several times for crashes, including a nasty collision between Conor Daly and Oliver Askew near the same pit entrance tire barrier that Pigot hit. They were uninjured, although Askew complained of a sore knee.
This year’s Indy classic had been postponed from Memorial Day weekend because of the coronavirus pandemic. The start of the season was delayed, and ultimately led to the decision to go ahead and run the 500 in the heat of August without spectators present.