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INDIANAPOLIS, 29 May 2017:
Takuma Sato fought off a challenge from Helio Castroneves to become the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500 yesterday while Fernando Alonso’s Indy adventure ended in familiar frustration.
Sato, who entered the race with one IndyCar victory on his resume, claimed the series’ biggest prize – and in the process, denied Castroneves a record-equalling fourth Indy 500 win and a place in the Brickyard’s most exclusive club.
Sato powered past Castroneves with only five laps to go in the 200-lap race around the 2.5 mile (4.02km) oval – then bravely held off the Brazilian while screaming in delight as he took the checkered flag.
“Unbelievable feeling,” said Sato, who went winless in seven seasons in Formula One (F1) before jumping to IndyCar. “It was a tough, tough race, but Helio really drives fair so I can trust him. Fantastic race. Hopefully the crowd enjoyed it.”
Sato was mobbed by his euphoric Andretti Autosport crew and team mates as he pulled into Victory Lane, kissed by the Indy 500 Queen and then chugged from the traditional bottle of milk before dumping it over his head.
At the same time the 42-year-old Castroneves slumped in his cockpit, his hands clutching his head after failing to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’
“Finishing second really sucks so close to getting my fourth,” said Castroneves. “I’m really trying, I will not give up this dream and I know it is going to happen.”
Twice F1 world champion Alonso, who skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to make his IndyCar debut, led for 27 laps and looked ready to earn a fairytale victory – until he suffered a familiar fate when his Honda engine expired with 21 laps to go.
It was a case of deja vu for Alonso, who came to the Indy 500 partly to escape the engine problems plaguing his McLaren F1 team and chase a second jewel in motor racing’s Triple Crown.
Overall it was an impressive display by Alonso who until this month had never driven an IndyCar or raced on an oval.
The Spaniard’s controlled and polished performance won him the respect of the nearly 300,000 spectators at the Brickyard who gave him a rousing standing ovation as his McLaren Andretti Autosport Honda, sporting McLaren’s iconic papaya orange livery, slowed to a stop on the home straight-away.
“I came here basically to challenge myself, prove myself,” said Alonso, who closed his news conference by chugging on a small carton of milk to much laughter.
“I know I can be as quick as anyone in a F1 car but I didn’t know if I could be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar. It was nice to have this competitive feeling.”
After a clean start to the 33-car race, pole sitter Scott Dixon collided with Jay Howard in a terrifying incident that ended both of their races.
Howard’s car hit the outside wall on lap 53 then slid into the path of Dixon, whose car launched into the air and onto the inside wall, disintegrating as it pierced the safety fencing before being flung back out onto the track.
Despite the violent crash that brought out the red flag and halted the race for nearly 30 minutes, both drivers climbed out of their wrecked cars unhurt.
Alonso had no regrets as he prepared to return to his F1 day job with McLaren – his race finished in much the same way as many of his F1 efforts this year, in frustration and a blown engine with 21 laps remaining of the 200.
Criticised in some corners for chasing Indy 500 glory rather than competing in the F1 glamour race at Monaco, Alonso said he would not have traded his experience for another drive around the glitzy Mediterranean principality.
“It’s true that before coming here some of the questions were how you can trade Monaco race for Indy 500. I won two times there (Monaco), I won two world championships.
“To drive around Monaco for a sixth place, seventh place, even a fifth place … To be here is not possible to compare that thing. I didn’t miss Monaco in terms of result.
“It was a great experience, the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself,” said Alonso. “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.
“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500.”
Although Alonso treated his foray into IndyCar with the seriousness it deserved, it almost seemed a holiday for the Spaniard away from the pressures of his struggling F1 team.
But it is back to reality on Monday ahead of the next stop on the F1 calendar in Montreal on June 11.
“So for the future, Canada, obviously we will try to keep improving,” said Alonso. “I think the car seems to be performing better and better.
“I think the second half of the season will be much more competitive and we will enjoy much more.”
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