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Takuma Sato becomes 1st Japanese to win Indy 500

Takuma Sato scored a landmark win for Japanese motor racing
Sunday, becoming the first driver from his country to win the
Indianapolis 500.

The 40-year-old Sato, who made the jump from Formula One to
IndyCar in 2010, edged the race's three-time champion Helio
Castroneves for the victory after starting fourth on the grid. Rookie
Ed Jones was third.

The previous best at the Indy 500 by a Japanese driver was
Toranosuke Takagi's fifth place in 2003. Sato had never fared better
than 13th in 2013 and 2015 in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," and
his only other IndyCar win came in 2013, when he won on the Long
Beach street circuit.

"Unbelievable feeling," said Sato, who, as is the tradition,
doused himself with a bottle of milk and got a huge hug from team
owner Michael Andretti. "It was obviously a tough, tough race. Helio
drives really fair so I can trust him, I can really come from the
outside."

"Fantastic, fantastic race. I hope the crowd enjoyed it," said
Sato.

Sato had come close to winning the Indy 500 once before in 2012,
when he crashed on the final lap while trying to top Dario
Franchitti. Sato, who joined Andretti Autosport this season, overtook
Castroneves with five laps to go and held off the Brazilian by 0.2
seconds for the win.

"This time I was pointing in the right direction, wasn't I?" the
Tokyo native said, referring to the 2012 race. "It's beautiful. I
dreamed of something like this."

"Until three laps to go, I didn't know. When Helio came side by
side with three laps to go, that was the moment you've got to go for
it, run it flat. And we did it and we pulled away."

Andretti was full of praise for his driver's "superb" effort.

"I watched him very closely. There's many times where he was in
a difficult situation and he would get out of the situation," said
Andretti, who like Sato drove both in F1 and IndyCar. "But when he
had to go, he went."

"I know how big this news is going to be tomorrow when they wake
up in Japan. This is going to be huge and I am happy that we were
able to give them a win with our Japanese driver here."

"Takuma brought a lot to our team, he has a ton of experience,
he's very technical. And on top of that he's a great guy. So he's
just a great part of the team and he's done everything that I thought
he was going to do. I knew he was going to be fast here and he
definitely didn't let us down."

Sato became the only Japanese driver to have reached the podium
in both IndyCar and F1. He came in third at the 2004 U.S. Grand Prix
when he was with the now-defunct BAR Honda F1 team.

Sato accomplished Sunday's feat 26 years after the first
Japanese drove at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Hiro Matsushita
-- the grandson of the late Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita --
took a crack at the race around the famous "Brickyard."

Sato dedicated the triumph to his fans back home.

"This victory is beyond big," he said. "I can't even imagine how
this will go down in Japan. There were some people who came over all
the way from Japan for this."

"I was able to give them a fantastic result, and I'm so proud of
this win which we achieved as a team. I hope all those who suffered
from the earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan are able to take
some joy from this," he said, referring to the March 2011 disaster.
(May 29)


Takuma Sato (L) speaks in an interview with local media after becoming
the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis,
Indiana, on May 28, 2017. The 40-year-old Sato, a former Formula
One driver, edged the race's three-time champion Helio Castroneves
for the victory. (Kyodo)
Takuma Sato's exclusive story
by Chicago Shimpo