101ST INDIANAPOLIS 500
he final few laps of the Indianapolis 500;
running hard, up at the front. Takuma
Sato had been in this position dozens of
times before. Maybe even hundreds.
There was that one occasion that
everybody saw, that everybody
remembers. That was in 2012, when he
rode a Dario Franchitti tow past the white
flag, moved to the inside of the Scot on
the entry to Turn 1, then spun up into the
outside wall. But since then, he’s been in
the same position over and over again in
his imagination, analyzing, learning,
driving a figmental simulator. If he was
ever lucky enough to find himself in the
same situation again in the real world, he
was going to make sure he was prepared.
And then came May 28, 2017. Final
few laps of the 101st Indianapolis 500.
Sato running hard, up at the front.
“Usually, second chances don’t
happen,” he tells RACER. “But this was
the exact situation I’d dreamed about.”
Of course on this occasion, the sour
milk-stink in the firesuit, the hundreds
of text messages on his phone, and the
couple of hours of patchy sleep broken by
a 6:30am photo shoot at the Speedway
on the morning after the race point to a
vastly different outcome...
Sato wrested the lead from Helio
Castroneves for the final time with five
laps to go – more on that later – and
looked relatively untroubled as he ticked
off the final 12. 5 miles that stood
between him and the distinction of
becoming the first Asian driver to grace
the Borg-Warner Trophy. It was a surprise
to most, considering that his name had
rarely figured in pre-race conversations,
although as always, hindsight illuminates
the signs that were there for those who
cared to look: Sato had a track record of
being fast at the Speedway, he’d been
quick all through the Month of May, and
the Andretti cars were rocketships.
But the secret ingredient? That gutting
last-lap visit to the SAFER Barriers on the
same weekend five years earlier.
“The 2012 race was a great experience
and a great part of my life,” he says. “To
actually challenge to win the Indy 500…
that was a significant experience that you
can’t really understand until you are there.
“You can visualize overtaking some
guy into Turn 1, but not specifically Dario,
not specifically the last lap of the Indy
500. That’s a completely different
scenario, and mentally, physically, you
have to be there to be prepared.
“For five years, I constantly had that
experience from 2012 in the back of my
head. You know how you’re going to react
if it happens again. You know it. Everything
is related, and I’m really pleased that the
2012 experience finally paid off the way
I’d always dreamed about it.”
That Takuma Sato
(LEFT, with engineer
was not being touted
before the race says
more about the
pundits than him. All
the signs were there
– from his past Indy
form, to the raw speed
across the Andretti
If Sato wasn’t on his rivals’ radars before
passing Helio Castroneves and Ed Jones
in a single, three-wide move with roughly
20 laps to go, he sure was afterward.
“That pass sent a message,” he said later.
THE WIDE SHOT