Shy Sato braces for spotlight after Indy 500 win

It happened, just not by the one some expected.

Former F1 driver Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500 when he took victory in the 101st running of the famous event on Sunday.

This time it was Sato who enjoyed the Indy 500 victor's traditions of drinking from a bottle of milk and kissing the strip of bricks at the start-finish line that's held over from the old surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A record 15 drivers led at least one lap during the race, but Sato was the one to do it when it counted after the last of many caution periods.

Sato, a 40-year-old former Formula 1 driver with just one previous victory in IndyCar racing, is the first Indianapolis 500 victor from Japan.

Sato came close to winning the 2012 Indy 500, running for the lead on the final lap when he hit the wall after bumping eventual race victor Dario Franchitti, ultimately finishing 17th while competing for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing. "You know, winning today, it's just superb".

"I was pointing in the right direction into (Turn) 1", he said.

On Sunday Fernando Alonso went for glory in untested waters of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His previous best finish in the race was 13th. It is the 41st second-place finish of the Brazilian's 20-year Indy auto career, which ranks second all time. "They worked really hard to get us here", said Andretti. "It was so close".

"I think we're a happy team", Sato said with a smile. "We had really strong cars, but they seemed like everyone started to have problems". Sato led twice for 17 laps.

He nearly got it right.

Dale Coyne Racing rookie Ed Jones finished a career-best third.

Castroneves, paid tribute to Jones' maturity and composure during the post-race press conference.

"We kept pushing on, kept making up positions", the 23-year-old from Dubai said. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it.

"I never thought I had so many friends". Rivals marvelled at how quickly he'd got up to speed, with several observers in the Indianapolis paddock commenting that he looked more at ease after seven days than some of his rivals did on their third or fourth visits to the Brickyard.

The reigning Indy Lights champion finished third behind Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves while Alonso was forced to accept 24th due an engine failure just 21 laps away from the finish.

"Definitely, yes", Alonso said, via ESPN, when asked if he was hungry to return. It also serves as redemption of sorts for Sato, having crashed out on the last lap in 2012, while fighting for the lead with eventual victor Dario Franchitti. "I had to believe in myself and what the vehicle was capable of".

"I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 vehicle, I didn't know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar". I know they were flying over from Japan today. In past years, kind of dating to the era of single supply, we had to build engines more for reliability than for performance, because we knew we were going to win the race no matter what. "Thanks to Indianapolis. Thanks to the fans". I feel very, very lucky. "I'm not American, but I felt really proud to race here".

Castroneves, who dodged multiple on-track incidents and led nine laps even after receiving a drive-through penalty, earned $770,629 for finishing second.

"When Helio was coming with three laps to go, on a big charge into Turn 1, we went side-by-side", Sato said. Hunter-Reay also failed to win the 500 in 2016 after leading the most laps (52), and could not hide his frustration.

  • Leroy Wright