Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sato's all-out style claims racing's biggest prize

The Indianapolis 500 was run for the 101st time on May 28.  It was Mark Glover’s 55th 500.

Prior to Sunday, it’s a fair bet that most sports-following Americans had never heard of Takuma Sato.  Casual sports watchers likely responded to news of his victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500 with: “Who?”

For those of us who have been watching Sato for years – he’s no youngster at 40, by the way – Sunday’s triumph was pure Sato … fearless, all-out, go-for-it and let the chips fall where they may.

Those things have been Sato’s downfall in other races, where his unrelenting passion to squeeze his car into the smallest of openings either put him into the wall or on the no-Christmas-card list of fellow IndyCar drivers who were eliminated amid Sato’s sometimes ill-advised charges.

I will say this of Sato: He’s always been that way.  And while his go-for-broke style is not necessarily suited for tight road courses or narrow street circuits, it’s perfect for the last 10 laps of the Indianapolis 500.

Over the past decade, Indy 500-winning runaways have vanished.  The aero design of the cars all but guarantees close racing right up to the checkered flag.  On Sunday, that meant it was Sato time.  This wasn’t Sato’s debut in late-race heroics.

In 2012, he charged hard into Turn One under race leader Dario Franchitti, only to lose control and crash into the outside wall as Franchitti went on to post his third Indy 500 win. Typical Sato, said some.  Others felt that Franchitti squeezed Sato too aggressively.

On Sunday, it went Sato’s way.  I will freely admit that I was pulling for Helio Castroneves to win a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500, but when he took the lead with just six laps to go, my gut told me Sato’s ultra-aggressive nature would not let that stand. With five to go, Sato edged his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda to the front and held off one more hard charge from Castroneves to win the race.

Sato’s screams over his radio after crossing the finish line were the byproduct of more than three hours of tense, wheel-to-wheel racing, but they just as well could have been the emotional release of so many close calls and near things over his many years in open-wheel racing.

It could have been even more interesting had two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda held together for just 20 more laps.  Alonso was masterful Sunday, making moves high and low in traffic to stay up front.  He looked like a veteran of 10 Indy 500s, not a “rookie” in his first start.

For my money, Alonso’s performance rivaled that of the late, great Scotsman, Jimmy Clark, the two-time Formula One series champ and 1965 Indy 500 winner.  Clark won the 500 on his third try, and Alonso hinted Sunday that he might be back for another go on the world-famous Indiana oval.

That I’d like to see.  The 2018 Indianapolis 500 can’t get here soon enough.

A menu of Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website  www.sacbee.com/news/business/article4005306.html

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