INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The motorsports critics kept saying Andretti Autosport was stretching itself too thin by fielding an audacious six entries for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
Good thing Michael Andretti doesn’t listen to the critics.
Four of those entries combined to lead 95 of the 200 laps Sunday, and Takuma Sato held off Helio Castroneves to give the team owner his third win in fourth years.
“I think we’re a happy team,” Sato said with a smile.
Yes, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Fernando Alonso had their chances go up in smoke along with their Honda engines. Marco Andretti lost a wing piece that cost him. Jack Harvey caught some debris that forced his car, a partnership with Michael Shank Racing, back to Gasoline Alley.
But that only happened after Hunter-Reay led 28 laps, second only to Max Chilton, and Alonso had been in front for 27. Alexander Rossi also led 23 laps while trying to defend his surprising title from a year ago, and finished a respectable seventh to prove it was not a fluke.
“I feel really bad for Ryan. I feel really bad for Fernando. Fernando drove a really good race for his first time here. I feel really bad for Alex, as well, because he had a bad pit stop,” Michael Andretti said. “But that’s why we had six bullets in the gun, right? One of them came through.”
It was the fifth Indy 500 win for Andretti teams, moving past A.J. Foyt and Chip Ganassi into a tie for second with Lou Moore for most among owners. Roger Penske is the runaway leader with 16.
“You know, somebody said that to me when we were down in victory lane. I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s a big deal,’” Andretti said. “Obviously I couldn’t ever win it as a driver. I said this a few years ago, maybe I was meant to win it a ton of times as an owner. Maybe when I’m 80 years old, hopefully I’ll have more wins than Roger. That’s our goal.”
Besides the dominance of Andretti, here are some of the other takeaways from the Indy 500:
SCARY WRECK: Scott Dixon escaped serious injury when his car catapulted over Jay Howard’s car early in the race. Dixon’s car landed on the inside retaining wall and exploded into pieces, but the 2008 race winner was able to walk away with only a limp.
Still, the crash was startling for French driver Sebastien Bourdais. He returned to the track on Sunday, just over a week after fracturing his pelvis, hip and ribs in his own horrific crash.
“As soon as Dixon crashed, I really got scared,” Bourdais said. “I really didn’t need to see those kinds of images and it was a bit too much, to be honest.”
HONDA POWER: The winning engine manufacturer felt validated when Sato reached victory lane. Honda has watched numerous engines fail this season, including James Hinchcliffe’s on Carb Day, and the three more that lost power Sunday threatened to put a damper on the afternoon.
“That is sometimes the price that must be paid for gains in performance,” said Art. St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development. “We clearly had speed all month, by any objective measurement. We definitely had some very well-performing engines in today’s race.”
DAVISON DRIVES TO FRONT: James Davison hopped into Bourdais’ car and, with just two practice days at his disposal, still managed to drive his Dale Coyne Racing entry to the front of the field.
He was caught up in a late wreck, but Davison proved he was deserving of an Indy 500 ride.
ROOKIES RULE: One year after Rossi won as a rookie, Ed Jones nearly made it two straight. He had trouble early when he ran over debris and needed to change his rear wing, but he battled back to the front of the field in the closing laps. He wound up finishing third.
“I damaged my front wing, had a big hole in it. My legs got pretty cold, to be honest,” he said. “I had wind blowing into them like crazy, and it created a lot of drag. That made it difficult. I couldn’t pull up to the leaders. We lacked that straight line speed for the last laps.”
SO, ABOUT ALO: The two-time F1 champion had a car capable of winning, but Alonso took the blown engine that cost him a chance in stride. He appreciated the unique chance to race the Indy 500 and hopes to one day return, even if he returns to the Monaco Grand Prix next year.
“I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an Indy car,” he said. “You lead just one lap here, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking at that moment if Zak (Brown, McLaren’s team principal) or someone from the team was taking a picture, because I want that picture at home.”