INDIANAPOLIS—At the end of 500 miles around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was a former Formula One driver who took the checkered flag.
He even drove for Andretti Autosport.
It just wasn't Fernando Alonso.
Takuma Sato became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 yesterday when he denied Helio Castroneves a record-tying fourth victory as the two traded the lead in the closing laps.
“I know Helio is always going to charge,” Sato noted.
“But he's just such a gentleman and such a fair player.”
The Andretti family has struggled for decades to win this race but as a car owner, Michael Andretti certainly knows the way to Victory Lane.
Sato's victory gave Andretti a second-straight win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
An Andretti driver now has won the 500 three times in the last four years, and five times overall dating to 2005 with the late Dan Wheldon.
Last year, it was with rookie Alexander Rossi. This time it is with Sato, who joined the team just this season and largely had been overlooked at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Andretti camp expanded to six cars for the 500 to add Alonso, a two-time F1 champion who brought massive European interest to the race.
Six cars never seemed to spread the team too thin, and the main issue facing Andretti Autosport was the reliability of its Honda engines.
Alonso put on a thrilling show and even led 27 laps—third most in the race—but he was sent to the paddock when his engine blew with 20 laps to go.
The crowd gave the Spaniard a standing ovation as he climbed from his car.
“I felt the noise, the engine friction, I backed off and I saw the smoke and, yeah, it's a shame,” Alonso said.
“It's a very nice surprise to come here with big names, big guys, the best in open-wheel racing and be competitive.”
He still drank from a carton of milk to close out his experience at Indy, and didn't rule out a potential return.
“The last two weeks, I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself,” Alonso noted.
“I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car,” he added.
“I didn't know if I can be as quick as anyone in an Indy car.”
Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe's day came to an end when he was involved in a crash with 17 laps to go.
In a Chevrolet for Team Penske, Castroneves briefly took the lead but couldn't make it stick as Sato grabbed it back.
Castroneves was disappointed to fall short of the four-time winners club—particularly since it was his third runner-up finish.
“Being second again sucks, being so close to getting my fourth,” Castroneves said.
“I'm really trying," he stressed. "I'm not giving up this dream and I know it's going to happen.”
The margin of victory was 0.2011 seconds and the win was redemption for Sato, who crashed while trying to beat Dario Franchitti on the final lap of the 2012 race.
It was only the second IndyCar victory for Sato, who won driving for A.J. Foyt in Long Beach in 2013—a span of 74 races.
Ed Jones finished a career-best third, followed by Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan, the highest finishers for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Pole-sitter Scott Dixon, already having a rough week because he was robbed at gunpoint at Taco Bell hours after turning the fastest qualifying effort in 21 years, was knocked out of the race in a terrifying crash in which his car sailed through the air and landed cockpit-first atop the inside safety fence.
Dixon's car was split in two amid sparks and flames.
The tub of the car remained intact and the 2008 champ was able to climb out on his own to a roar from the crowd.
He walked to a waiting ambulance while the race was placed under red flag and crews began to clean up debris scattered over hundreds of feet in the accident caused when Dixon's car collided with that of Jay Howard.
“Just a little beaten up there. It was definitely a rough ride,” Dixon said.
“We had a great shot," he added. "We had gotten a little loose but they had dialed it in.”