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Speed Freak: Checker or Wrecker

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Takuma Sato in 2011.
  • Takuma Sato in 2011.
"No attack no chance." Those are the words that IndyCar driver Takuma Sato lives by. Indeed, he's been known to affix them to the dashboard of his Honda-powered Dallara. At no time was that philosophy more evident than during the last lap of this year's Indianapolis 500, when the 35-year-old Sato, who hails from Tokyo, attacked race leader Dario Franchitti for the win.

Hungry for a victory, and with enough horsepower to seize it, Sato - who had earlier led the race for 31 laps - dove low into turn one of the fabled 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking a tight line underneath Franchitti. It was the kind of move that, had it worked, would have been the stuff of legend, propelling Sato to worldwide fame as the first Japanese driver ever to win Indy.

Unfortunately for Sato, however - whose blue-and-white #15 car was fielded by Ohio-based team Rahal Letterman Lanigan - the move failed. Franchitti, sensing the threat, squeezed Sato ever so slightly. "I thought I had the job done," the slight, soft-spoken Sato told reporters afterward. "But he kept pushing and didn't give me enough room."

In an instant, the rear end of Sato's blue-and-white #15 machine broke loose. "I was almost in the [infield] grass and the car started sliding," Sato recalled. He spun, making brief contact with Franchitti before drifting helplessly into the outside wall. For his part, Franchitti hung on. "I kept my foot in [the throttle] and that was it," Franchitti, who went on to win the race - for the third time - under the Sato-induced yellow, said afterward.

Naturally, there was plenty of second-guessing after Sato's crash. Some thought attempting to pass was foolish. But, as the late Formula One legend Ayrton Senna once said, "The main motivation for all of us is to compete for victory. It's not to come in third, fourth, fifth, or sixth."

Team owner Bobby Rahal, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986, was philosophical about his driver's move. "What can I say?" he tweeted after the race. "When it's the last lap of the Indy 500 you go for it!" Franchitti was likewise reflective about Sato's gutsy decision. "I mean, why not?" he said.

Sato, who competed for six years in Formula One before defecting to IndyCar, is still seeking his first win in the series - although he has claimed two pole positions thus far. Rest assured, his aggressive style will not change. He does, however, make one small request of Dario Franchitti, shared at the drivers' banquet after the race: "I'm small, but I need more room."

A line of 500 princesses look on while Dario Franchitti celebrates his Indy 500 win.
  • A line of 500 princesses look on while Dario Franchitti celebrates his Indy 500 win.


Notes:

* The Andretti Curse remains unbroken, as Marco Andretti crashed hard into the wall with 12 laps to go. The current record: Andretti 1, Indy 55.

* IndyCar officials black-flagged both Lotus-powered machines, driven by Simona De Silvestro and Jean Alesi, ending their day early. The cars simply weren't up to speed and posed a danger to the other, faster drivers. "I'm disappointed," De Silvestro said afterward. "But we didn't have speed from the beginning. I understand the call. We have to have more horsepower to be competitive."

* Somewhere up there, Dan Wheldon is smiling. His three closest friends - Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan - comprised the top three finishers at this year's race. Speaking of Wheldon, Dario Franchitti showed real class by including Wheldon's widow, Susie, in his post-race celebration - even inviting her to join him and his wife, Ashley Judd, on his victory lap.

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