Takuma Sato Takes First Place at Indy 500

Image courtesy of AP News

By Angela Hickey

Long time racer Takuma Sato crossed the finish line of a nearly empty stadium on August 23, gaining his second win at the Indy 500 since 2017. 

The Indy 500 has been a long-standing tradition in the racing community since 1909 when the very first competitive event took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since then, the race has gathered millions of racing fanatics from across the nation to watch what has been called “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” But, due to the pandemic, fans were unable to enjoy the race in person this year, leaving the stadium seats empty for the very first time in 104 runnings. 

Takuma Sato was originally born in Tokyo, Japan, and began his career with national carting before eventually moving on to the international racing circuit. Sato is the first Asian driver to win the Indy 500 and the 20th person to win the race more than once. 

Sato was able to win first place after holding off opposing racer Scott Dixon, who eventually came in second place. Sato won under caution, a term used when drivers continue the race after a yellow flag is called, after Sato’s teammate Spencer Pigot crashed during the race with only four laps remaining. Even though Pigot had to receive medical attention, the race was permitted to continue due to the severity of the crash, the extensive debris cleanup, and the fact that there were only four laps remaining. There was no way they would have been able to give the race a proper restart.

Dixon was disappointed with what he considered a lax call, especially after he was leading 111 of the 200 laps, hoping to achieve his second league win. Despite believing that he would be able to overtake Sato during an eventual pit stop, Dixon found himself being held back when  Sato never made the stop and inevitably took first place, leading his team to victory. 

After crossing the finish line, the celebration was rather muted due to an audience of only 2,500 in an arena meant to hold 300,000 on Sunday.

“It’s not a happy place,” Sato said to ESPN after the race. “It’s tough on everyone, not only for us. It was just fortunate, so fortunate, to be able to perform as a sport, be able to show millions of people watching TV today at home, get some energy on it.”

Unable to take part in the traditional celebration, Sato celebrated by briefly removing his mask in order to kiss the yard of bricks that paved the winners’ circle. 

The conclusion of this race leaves many to wonder what might have been if the crash had never happened.

“It is a little silly to predict what might have happened. The reality is Takuma won,” said winning car owner Bobby Rahal.

Despite the rather odd finish, spectators will still be eagerly awaiting next year’s race. Hopefully, there will be a way for spectators to be allowed in the stadium once again. 

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