Dixon’s wild week
Scott Dixon had a month with the ultimate high and two very lows.
First, the 2008 Indianapolis 500 champion won his third career Indianapolis pole. A few hours after his feat, Dixon, his wife Emma, and good friend Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint while waiting in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on 16th Street. All three escaped shaken but unharmed, and the two alleged robbers were later arrested.
Then Sunday, on Lap 53, Dixon was hit by Jay Howard, who tapped the Turn 2 wall. Dixon’s car went airborne in a terrifying crash and damaged part of the retainer fence. Both Dixon and Howard walked away from the crash, but the race was stopped nearly 20 minutes while the fence was repaired.
“It was definitely a rough ride and a wild (one) for sure,” Dixon said. “You just hold on.”
What might have been
To Helio Castroneves, all second place meant was that he was the first loser. The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion took the lead on Lap 194 and it looked as though he might join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as a four-time champion.
And if not for Sato, Castroneves would have. Adding to Castroneves’ agony is the fact that was his third second-place. He also finished third in 2007. Had everything gone his way in those races, Castroneves could have been a seven-time winner.
A thrilling first
Takuma’s Sato win was the first Indianapolis 500 championship for either a Japanese or Asian driver. It was his first win since the 2013 Long Beach Grand Prix and by far his best finish. His previous best was 13th.
“It was fantastic,” said Sato. “It was a tough race and Helio really drove fair. It’s beautiful and we did it.”
It was also the fifth Indianapolis 500 win for Andretti Autosport, which is owned by Michael Andretti.
Ironically, Andretti never won the race himself, coming close with a second-place finish in 1991. Besides Sato, Andretti winners have included the late Dan Wheldon in 2005, Franchitti in 2007, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2014 and Alexander Rossi last year.
When Tony Kanaan took the lead early on Lap 6, it marked the 13th time the amiable Brazilian has led the Indianapolis 500 in 15 Indy 500 races. Moreover, he led for 22 laps, putting him over 4,000 laps led in his formidable career.
More milestone laps
Fernando Alonso led 27 laps and took the lead for the first time on Lap 37. Alonso’s lead marked the first time a former Formula 1 World Champion has led the Indianapolis 500 since Emerson Fittipaldi led the 1994 race.
What about Jacques Villeneuve, you say? Remember, he didn’t win his world title until 1997, two years after he won the Indianapolis 500, and he didn’t lead a lap in his one-off return in 2014.
Follow the leader
Andretti cars were 1-2-3-4 at one point with Alonso, Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Sato running together. All four teammates led at one point during the race as well — a first for Andretti Autosport.
The only Andretti driver not to lead the race was Marco Andretti, son of founder Michael Andretti. Also at one point, current and former F1 drivers ran 1-2-3 in Alonso, Rossi and Sato. Alonso is the only one who is still doing a full season of Formula 1.
Buddy Lazier, the 1996 Indy 500 winner, looking for that elusive second win, was okay after spinning and hitting the Turn 2 wall Sunday.
Lazier, who has come close to winning a second race with second-place finishes in 1998 and 2000 and a memorable fifth-place run with the Greenwood-based Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing in 2005, started 30th on Sunday, but he fell back two laps and was never really a factor before his crash. He finished 29th. Lazier was transport to IU Methodist with some discomfort.
Rough day for USA
Not a great day for the Yanks in the race, especially if you were under 30. The top American finisher was defending champ Rossi, who finished seventh. Marco Andretti was eighth and Graham Rahal 12th. One great American hope, Sage Karam, finished 28th due in part to mechanical issues in his DRR-Mecum Auctions Chevrolet.
It wasn’t just the car that plagued Karam, though — he had no contact with his team while out there.
“I had no radio communication with my team from the start of the race,” said Karam. “I could hear them. They couldn’t hear me, so we had to work on a code to communicate with each other on the fly. Just keying up on the radio for yes or no on the radio and turning fuel mixtures for more wing, less wing, rear wing and front wing.
“So it was kind of sketchy out there, but we were doing okay.”
Sato won in a Honda, but the Japanese manufacturer got a scare before he took the checkered flag. The question all week long was whether the Honda engines would survive. They did, but doubt was raised when longtime race leader Hunter-Reay’s engine gave out on Lap 136.
The 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion was in second place at the time, and the Honda blowup sent shivers to all the Honda competitors while giving hope to the Chevrolet runners — like eventual runner-up Castroneves. Then on Lap 166, third place Charlie Kimball’s Honda went away.
Then came Alonso. The two-time world Formula One champion was in position to possibly win, but his engine went on lap 180, much like current F1 season is going.
“I felt the noise and then poof,” said Alonso. “The whole day has been a nice experience. The racing was fun and nice and we were up there leading the race. Really good fun.”