As the laps clicked off during the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil so did the list of race leaders powered by a Honda motor. One after one the pride of the Honda camp lead the race only to have their hopes of winning race go up in smoke.
First it was Ryan Hunter-Reay's Honda expiring, then Charlie Kimball's powerplant, finally Fernando Alonso. As the race entered it's final laps the battle for the lead had worn down to a duel between Takuma Sato and is No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No.3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet.
Sato passed Castroneves for the lead on Lap 195 - the last of 35 lead changes in the 200-lap race on the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the seventh straight year that the decisive pass for the Indy 500 lead occurred in the last six laps. The Honda was clearly faster but would it last, would Sato join the other Honda drivers standing in pit lane explaining their fate to some pit reporter finally making Castroneves a four-time winner.
Sato held off aggressive charges from Castroneves and the Honda engine held together as Sato edged the three-time Indy 500 winner to the finish line by 0.2011 of a second to become the first Japanese winner of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in the sixth-closest finish in Indy 500 history.
"It's such a privilege to win here," said Sato, who crashed while battling eventual winner Dario Franchitti for the lead on the final lap of the 2012 Indy 500. "So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn't really matter. Winning today, it's just superb.
"But, yes, I do feel after 2012 I really needed to correct something I left over. Today, I was so happy that I made it and won in a good move."
Castroneves overcame a black-flag penalty for jumping a restart and dodged mayhem in two race incidents to finish second at Indy for the third time.
"The Shell Fuel Rewards Chevy team almost got it done today," said Castroneves, attempting for the eighth straight year to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners. "It was so close.
"I say, 'great job' to my guys," added Castroneves, who recovered from his worst Indy 500 start (19th) and the pit drive-through penalty to finish runner-up. "They worked their tails off, we saw it all today. We were in the back and we led some laps. We avoided disaster and we almost got (win) No.4."
Dale Coyne Racing rookie Ed Jones finished a career-best third. Like Castroneves, Jones had to climb from the rear of the field after having the rear wing assembly on his No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda replaced during a pit stop.
"We kept pushing on, kept making up positions," the 23-year-old from Dubai said. "I had a great Dale Coyne Racing car underneath me the whole way that got me to make those passes. ... Congrats to Sato. I didn't really have the pace for him and Helio at the end, but we did the best we could."
Fernando Alonso was the most heralded rookie coming into the race. The two-time Formula One champion, who bypassed today's F1 Monaco Grand Prix to fulfill a dream to drive in the Indy 500, started fifth, ran up front most of the day and led 27 laps in the No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda. Alonso's race came to a premature conclusion 24th place with a mechanical issue after 179 laps.
"Obviously disappointed not to finish the race because every race you compete, you want to be at the checkered flag," Alonso said. "Today, (it) was not possible. Anyway, (it) was a great experience, the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn't know if I can be as quick as anyone in an Indy car.
"Thanks to INDYCAR, an amazing experience," the 35-year-old Spaniard added. "Thanks to Indianapolis, thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I'm not American, but I felt really proud to race here."
Despite going a lap down early with handling issues, Chip Ganassi Racing's Max Chilton led the most laps (50) before finishing fourth. It was the best showing of the 26-year-old Brit's two-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.
"I don't think anyone has ever won this race without a little bit of luck," said Chilton, driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Honda. "When we did end up getting out front, the car was really quick and you can see why this place is so special and so electric in that moment. ... To come from a lap down to lead and have a chance to win here at Indy is a massive accomplishment for the whole team."
A total of 15 drivers led the event, breaking the record of 14 set in 2013. The race was slowed by 11 cautions periods for a total of 50 laps. A red flag stopped action for 19 minutes to repair the SAFER Barrier and catch fencing in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2. It was the result of a Lap 53 collision between Jay Howard and pole sitter Scott Dixon that vaulted Dixon's car into the safety materials on the inside of the track. Neither driver was seriously injured.
Howard in the No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda had a tough start running out of fuel and coasting into the pits. After returning to the action Howard found himself out of line in Turn One loosing grip and slamming into the outside wall. Howard's car then crossed back into the racing line and was struck by Dixon's car which became airborne, landing on its side atop the inside wall, flipping over and finally coming to a rest, the engine sheared off.
"First and foremost, I'm glad Scott (Dixon) is OK. Credit to INDYCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Holmatro Safety Team, Dallara. I'm fine, thanks to them. It goes to show how safe these cars are. I'm not happy. Unfortunately, we ran out of fuel on our first stint when we were doing really well, which was unfortunate. I was a few laps down and see (Ryan) Hunter-Reay coming. I just backed off, let him go by. He moves right over on me and puts me on all the gray and all the marbles and that was it. It's over."
Dixon, the pole sitter was beaten, battered and limping on a sore ankle.
"I'm just a little beaten up," said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Camping World Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. "It was definitely a bit of a rough ride.
"I was hoping that Jay was going to stay against the wall, but obviously, there was the impact. I had already picked that way to go and there was nowhere else to go to avoid him. It was definitely a wild ride. Big thanks to the Holmatro Safety Team, INDYCAR and Dallara and everyone for the safety standards we have on these cars."
Buddy Lazier was involved in a single-car incident on Lap 122. The 1996 Indy 500 winner spun and contacted the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier in the No. 44 Lazier Racing-StalkIt-Tivoli Lodge Chevrolet. Complaining of chest discomfort, Lazier was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital, where he was treated and released.
The final caution flag waved on Lap 184 when the cars of James Davison and Oriol Servia touched in Turn 2, sparking a five-car incident that also collected James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Will Power. None of the drivers was injured.
"I am obviously very proud of the team for the strong run that we had." said Davison "In all honesty, I need to see a replay. I felt I was coming out of my steering and I got hit by (Oriol) Servia. Whether that's the case or not, I need to see a replay. It's very frustrating for all of us, we all had good cars. I was racing those guys, I was ahead of (Takuma) Sato for a while. Yeah, he's gone and won it, and that's awesome for him. I did the best I could with the limited practice I had. I made a couple of mistakes here and there so sorry to any of the drivers that I may have upset. I just got a good restart and felt I got tagged, so I need to see a replay to see if that's indeed the case."
Servia's view, "I had a great car. In the first stint, we went backwards but then we changed the car a little bit and I think the Manitowoc car was a rocket ship. I felt so confident on restarts; we had the pace. To end the race this way is just a shame. Only one person is happy at the end of the day at this place of the 33 drivers. I was aggressive but clean all race. When (James) Davison was outside, he just closed, closed, closed on me and I had nowhere to go. I turned as much as I could. I was off the throttle. It just did one little move and we touched and that was it. It is what it is. You cannot go back in time, unfortunately. I'm just so pleased with the effort of everyone on the team. We never gave up at the beginning and we just had an amazing pace. I'll be back. I'm going to win this race one day. I am."
Sato becomes the sixth different winner in as many Verizon IndyCar Series races this season and jumps to third place in the standings. Castroneves leads with 245 points while reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud, Sato and Dixon each has 234. Alexander Rossi is fifth in points with 190 after finishing seventh today.
The Verizon IndyCar Series travels to the Raceway at Belle Isle Park for next weekend's Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, the only doubleheader weekend on the 2017 schedule. The races air at 3:30 p.m. ET June 3 and 4 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
1. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
2. (19) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
3. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 200, Running
4. (15) Max Chilton, Honda, 200, Running
5. (7) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, Running
6. (18) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, Running
7. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running
8. (8) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
9. (25) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
10. (24) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 200, Running
11. (2) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running
12. (14) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running
13. (13) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 200, Running
14. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running
15. (31) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 200, Running
16. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running
17. (28) Pippa Mann, Honda, 199, Running
18. (29) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 194, Running
19. (22) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 186, Running
20. (33) James Davison, Honda, 183, Contact
21. (12) Oriol Servia, Honda, 183, Contact
22. (17) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 183, Contact
23. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 183, Contact
24. (5) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 179, Mechanical
25. (16) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 166, Mechanical
26. (32) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 155, Mechanical
27. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 136, Mechanical
28. (21) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 125, Mechanical
29. (30) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 118, Contact
30. (26) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 65, Contact
31. (27) Jack Harvey, Honda, 65, Contact
32. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 52, Contact
33. (20) Jay Howard, Honda, 45, Contact
Winners average speed: 155.395 mph
Time of Race: 3:13:03.3584
Margin of victory: 0.2011 of a second
Cautions: 11 for 50 laps
Lead changes: 35 among 15 drivers
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Castroneves 245, Pagenaud 234, Sato 234, Dixon 234, Rossi 190, Kanaan 188, Power 186, Newgarden 186, Jones 185, Hinchcliffe 170, Chilton 170.
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