Takuma Sato has brushed off his ripe old age to bask in the glory of a second Indianapolis 500 victory after triumphing over fellow IndyCar Series veteran Scott Dixon.
Dixon loomed as the one to beat, and the 2008 winner proved as much before Sato outsmarted the Kiwi in the final stint to hold on for a second Indianapolis 500 crown.
Sato’s victory was sealed after a Lap 196 accident for Spencer Pigot saw the race finish under caution.
An elated Sato soaked in the plaudits and enjoyed the celebratory milk and brick finish line kiss, and at 43 suggested he still has more in the tank.
“How many times you participate Indy 500, I think it never gets old, never gets (boring), absolutely not,” Sato said after the race.
“You’re always hungry to win the race, no matter who you are, how many races. You look at Helio (Castroneves). I mean, he won three times. He’s still as hungry as the first one.
“I just feel so lucky… after 40 years old, still driving, that is just living in a dream. Hopefully I can compete a little bit more longer.”
A veteran of 90 Formula 1 starts, Sato has since made his name in IndyCar and reached the pinnacle of the sport with his 2017 breakthrough at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Three years later, Sato pieced together a drive for the ages to defeat Dixon, who hadn’t placed outside the top five in any session all fortnight.
The victory saw Sato become just the 20th driver to win two or more Indy 500 classics.
“I’ve been so fortunate,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said.
“Obviously I wasn’t born in a racing family, so many people obviously know by this stage or might not, but I started racing when I was 20. Before that I only had steel frame pedal bike, that was my only race car in life.
“I never dreamt even get to the Formula 1. Then of course after that I had golden opportunity to come to the (United) States, do IndyCar.
“I never thought my racing life going on any longer than Formula 1. Now I’ve been competing here more than 10 years.
“Olympic athletes have to be premium ages, 20’s, 30’s, but in motor racing, as long as you’re fit enough to drive the car, why not? [Bobby Rahal] was driving in his 50s, Mario [Andretti] was driving that age, too.
“I know the car is different today, but 43 to me is just only number.”
Defeating Dixon with such a consummate performance was no shock to Sato, who executed his plans to perfection to claim another 500 crown.
Pitting on Lap 169, Sato pushed his fuel mileage to the limit and traded places with Dixon late. However, when many expected Dixon to regain the lead he had held all day, Sato kept his head and held on for a famous win.
“Scott was probably the best competitor entire really two weeks to be honest, from practice to qualifying. He showed speed,” Sato said.
“Today, he led the start, then he just disappeared. I was able to hang on. At that time I was playing with mixtures, also how much we can get the fuel mileage out of it.
“First hundred laps, you want to be top three, top five. That was always my thought coming to this race. If I have opportunity, yes, you want to lead it, but you use too much fuel. That was my strategy.
“Then after a hundred (laps), I had opportunity to come around again with Scott. I just went to leading the race, see how it goes. So that moment I realise, yes, we have a very competitive package.
“For the last three stints I was able to be happy with the car, particularly second half of every stint I was very strong.”
Regardless, Sato admitted it would have been close on fuel had the final caution for Pigot’s accident not flown.
“After the restart, when I got the lead, yeah, I got a voice from the pit basically using too much fuel,” said Sato.
“I had to back off with leaner mixture, which you can see immediately Scott caught me and tried to give it a go.
“At that point I had to switch back to the maximum power. He was three cars, four cars behind, I go with the leaner mixture.
“We were close. Even without it, I was hitting a number. If you scan my radio, we were on the number. Even (if we had gone) through the entire green, I think we were okay.
“However, still I think I will be threatened from Dixie from the last few laps where he will be probably 100 percent to power, which I had some of that in the pocket, but otherwise it was very, very close.”