Takuma Sato holds off Helio in another thrilling Indianapolis 500

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Spaniard Ferenando Alonso grabbed headlines all month as the two-time World Champion competed in his first Indianapolis 500. If they wanted to ensure this was the top spectacle in racing, they wanted the best to participate. And the full-time drivers needed to put a good fight.

That they did, with Takuma Sato taking the checkered flag at 3:58 ET Sunday afternoon. Three-time Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves challenged late, even leading the pack for lap 194. He was overtaken for good on lap 195 by Sato, who led the sixth-most laps (17) … and the most important one.

“It was a fantastic race,” Sato said after chugging half a bottle of two-percent milk. “What a race. Hopefully the crowd enjoyed it.”

It would not have been a good for this race had Alonso come to the Speedway and then caught his private jet back home after celebrating in the Winner’s Circle with a cold glass of milk.

No, that would have been too easy, felt too easy.

Instead, he got a taste of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. He started fifth, raced from the top spot for the third-most laps (27), but it was a blown Honda engine, one of several on the day to go bad, that prematurely ended his run.

Alonso was good enough, his engine was not.

He didn’t even take off his helmet as he left his car, walked pit lane and directly back to his RV. After the race, he was the first to speak to reporters — with a full house of about 75 reporters intently looking on. He enjoyed this experience, enjoyed this test. But it was bittersweet because his engine crapped out.

“It was a great experience the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar.

“Let’s see what happen in the following years. Yeah, I need to keep pursuing this challenge because winning the Indy 500 is not completed.”

More than 300,000 fans were at IMS for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

The 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 provided its usual excitement and drama. The first 100 miles raced on by in just 28 minutes. But then, a rare red flag came out after a horrific wreck.

On lap 53, Jay Howard went high into the wall, then came back down and sent Scott Dixon airborne. Dixon’s tub then hit the inside safety wall on the side and landed upside down. (Before coming down, Castroneves amazingly snuck on by beneath him.)

It was the wildest, most frightening wreck that I have seen in person.

Somehow, someway Dixon came out with just a bum ankle.

Castroneves, the lone Chevrolet to finish in the top five, had the lead halfway into the race. Ryan Hunter-Reay had another strong car, but like Alonso, he blew in engine. But first, he led 28 of his 136 laps completed, and recorded the fastest 2.5 miles on the day: 223.793 mph.

[Jeff Teague sponsored 44-car crashes on lap 122]

35 lead changes. 11 yellow periods, featuring 50 laps.

Race fans were concerned about the weather, and that wasn’t an issue beyond wet grass parking lots, and muddy ankles for those in the Snake Pit. It was 78 degrees when the drivers got in their cars at 12:15 pm ET.

It was pretty cool pre-race as six helicopters arrived at the track to deliver Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana Governor and a Columbus native. His motorcade then took a parade lap around the track to allow for the VP and his wife, Karen, to take it all in. They both came to the race each year since they were kids. It was neat to see them continue.

Jim Cornelison performed a great rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Castroneves, a fan favorite, will have to wait at least another year to join the elusive club of four-time winners. He last won at IMS in 2009.

And then there’s Sato. He earned his second IndyCar victory and became the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500. “It’s beautiful,” Sato said, who didn’t start driving until he was 20. “I dreamed of something like this since I was 12.”

Sato is part of Andretti Autosport, which had the fastest cars all day. Sato, Hunter-Reay (27), Alexander Rossi (7), Marco Andretti (8).

With numerous engines blown, it was a troubling day for Honda. However, a disastrous run was avoided as four of the top five cars were Hondas, as was the 26-car that finished in Victory Lane.

It was another great month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; we’re already looking forward to the 102nd running.

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