Last-lap impatience cost Sato a chance at checkered flag

INDIANAPOLIS — In the early going of the Indianapolis 500, Bobby Rahal advised his driver to show a little patience.

If only Takuma Sato had been listening on the last lap Sunday.

The Japanese driver was perfectly positioned when the white flag came out — right behind leader Dario Franchitti. Second was definitely the place to be for the final trip around the 2½-mile oval, these new Indy cars designed in such a way that a trailing driver knew he could slingshot to the front like he had a rocket attached to rear wing.

Turns out, Sato got a little greedy — the very thing Rahal counseled him against over the radio during the opening stages of the race, when the ex-Formula One driver realized the strength of his car and started darting all over the track to get past anyone in his way.

On that final lap, Sato spotted a narrow opening going into Turn 1. Franchitti didn’t give an inch. Sato got below the white line at the bottom of the track, a treacherous place to be. The rear end began to slide, touching Franchitti’s wheels at more than 200 mph.

Franchitti managed to keep control of his machine, speeding off to take the checkered flag for his third Indy 500 win. Sato careened into the outside wall, crawling out of his battered machine for the mandatory ride to the infield care center about the time Franchitti was going past on his victory lap.

The hard hit didn’t cause any injuries.

Sato sure was hurting, though.

“I was going for the win,” he said. “Very disappointed.”

All day long, the first turn was the most difficult to navigate. All the big wrecks happened going into that corner or coming out of it. That’s why runner-up Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s teammate and the guy with the best view, was baffled by Sato picking that spot for his daring move.

“I don’t know why he didn’t wait any longer,” Dixon said. “I really don’t.”

To Rahal’s credit, he didn’t throw his driver under the bus. The winner of the 1986 Indy 500 knows from experience that so much of racing is instinct. An IndyCar driver has a split-second to make his move. When Sato decided he had the momentum and room to pull off the pass, there was no turning back.

Takuma drove just a beautiful race,” Rahal said. “I have no problem with what he tried to do.”

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