But Sato, who passed Castroneves for the lead with just two laps to go, would not be denied.
“Unbelievable,” Sato said in Victory Circle. “Hélio is just a gentleman, and I knew I was racing against a real champion. When Hélio came up beside me with three laps to go, I decided this was the moment and I just had to go for it.”
A five-car, chain-reaction mash-up with just 17 circuits left in the 200-lap race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval took out the top contenders Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Oriel Servià, James Hinchcliffe and James Davidson. It also set up the frantic fight to the finish.
Credit Marty Seppala/Associated Press
The race was briefly stopped in the early going after a death-defying crash involving the top qualifier, Scott Dixon. Dixon, the 2008 Indy winner and a four-time IndyCar champion, was able to hobble away from the shattered remains of his car without a serious injury.
“I really thought we had it,” Castroneves said. “I think I bent the throttle, I pressed it so hard. I bumped Sato’s car a few times. That thing must be indestructible.”
Castroneves was lucky to be in the race at all, at that point.
The pace was unremittingly furious for the first quarter of the race, but then Jay Howard’s car bounced off the outside wall, came across the track and collected the trailing machine of Dixon.
Dixon’s car was launched high into the air, and it seemed to float momentarily, until it landed broadside on the inside guardrail. During its hang time, Castroneves actually drove his car under Dixon’s; he sped by in the infield grass without incurring a scratch.
Dixon’s car lost its engine and rear wheel assembly in the first big impact, and then most everything else except for the driver’s safety capsule before it stopped tumbling. Although the race was temporarily stopped to clean up the huge debris field, neither driver was seriously hurt.
“I’m fine,” Dixon said after a mandatory checkup at the infield hospital. If anyone expected his ardor to be dampened by such a crash, Dixon quickly dispelled all doubts, saying, “I can’t wait to come back next year.”
Dixon returned to the care center later, complaining of a sore ankle, for which he was outfitted with a heavy protective boot.