In the “go or go home” world that is the Indy 500, Takuma Sato went for it and paid the price.
When Sato tried to take the lead from Dario Franchitti, he paid the ultimate price, crashing on lap 200 in Turn 1, thus ensuring Franchitti’s third victory. However, Sato’s near triumph began far back on the starting grid.
In the first full season of the return of Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing, Sato qualified on the inside of row seven for the 96th Indianapolis 500. Sato quietly ran his race and actually took the lead when Scott Dixon pitted.
Sato led for four laps before having to pit. He regained the lead until Franchitti passed him on lap 154.
Sato remained within striking distance as the laps wound down, going from seventh to fifth, fourth and then going by Tony Kanaan and Dixon for second. When he made the move on Franchitti, his version of the event was different than the other drivers.
“On the very last lap, I had a good tow from Dario,” Sato said. “I thought I had the job done, but he kept pushing me and didn’t give me enough room. I was very disappointed.”
However Kanaan, who had a clear view, had another opinion.
“It was a young driver mistake,” Kanaan said. “He could have done it, but I would have done it differently. I thought, ‘This doesn’t look good, but maybe it looks good for me.’ ”
Second-place Dixon agreed: “He should have waited longer.”
Kanaan added that Sato was going up against a master and it is hard to beat a master.
“You can’t play Dario like that. You should know better than that,” said Kanaan.
Sato was not the only one who made a brilliant charge on Sunday. Kanaan showcased his talents once again with a brilliant restart. As the cars went four-wide on a lap 185 restart, Kanaan went from fifth to first. Although they traded the lead, Kanaan remained in first until Marco Andretti’s crash on lap 188.
Since day one of practice, drivers said that being in the lead in the new DW12 was not the best thing. Because of the huge hole the car punches in the air, there is a draft that can slingshot the rear car around.
Kanaan lost the lead for good on the restart with just six laps to go. He finished in third after starting eighth.
This was not Kanaan’s only time to be denied a trip to victory lane. In 2007, Kanaan was leading on lap 113 when a heavy rain poured down on the Speedway. The race was halted with many believing it would not be restarted and Kanaan declared the winner. However, after more than three hours of delay, the race restarted. On lap 166, the rains came again, bringing a final halt to the race. Franchitti, who had since taken the lead, was declared the winner.
Kanaan said many times throughout the month that it would mean more than anything for his face to sit alongside Dan Wheldon’s on the Borg-Warner trophy. Wheldon was one of Kanaan’s best friends.
“I tried everything I could to do it,” Kanaan said. “To lose like this, though, is an honor. I know wherever [Wheldon] is, he would be happy. He would be making fun of Sato and calling me a ‘wanker’ for losing again.”
Kanaan admitted it was hard not to think about Wheldon on laps 26 and 98, the two tribute laps, but overall, his thoughts were strictly on his race.
“I could not lose my focus for that,” Kanaan said. “I wanted to win for myself after all these years of trying, but this year would have been special to have my face next to Dan’s.