WONDERS never cease, there’s still life on the old grey horse and a dozen other such cliches might have resonated around the famed brickyard at Indianapolis last Sunday.
That’s because the biggest race in the US was won by a chap who thought his motor racing career had come to an end more than a decade ago.
Former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato quit Formula 1 in 2008, but the 43-year-old Japanese is relishing life after winning the Indianapolis 500 – for a second time in four years.
Sato, who made 90 Formula 1 starts between 2002 and 2008, said he “never even imagined a situation like today” and “look still driving, that’s just living in a dream”.
“We kept on going.
“We had a second chance in life. I say keep challenging, keep open the door, then you’ll get eventually the chance.
“I never thought my racing life would go on any longer than Formula 1.
“Now I’m competing here (at Indianapolis) after more than 10 years.’
Sato, who became the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500 in 2017, crossed the finish line unchallenged on Sunday after Spencer Pigot crashed into the wall with five laps left, bringing out the yellow caution flag.
Nicknamed Taku, he began karting in Japan, moved to England in 1998 and won the British Formula 3 championship in 2001.
He then drove for Jordan in Formula 1, moved to the BAR team in 2003 and on to the Super Aguri team in 2006.
The team quit with financial problems in 2008 and Sato, who had quite a reputation for pranging, figured that was the end of his racing career.
But in 2010 he got a break into IndyCars with KV Racing, finishing 13th on the brickyard.
He then moved to the A J Foyt stable, Andretti Autosport and in 2018 to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the team he’s still with.
The Indianapolis 500 is billed as ‘the world’s biggest single day sporting event’ and the venue would normally be packed with 300,000 fans.
But the COVID-19 safety protocols meant no crowd, and no thundering ovation that usually goes with victory.
Sato was, however, able to chug from the traditional quart of milk as members of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team celebrated around him across from the empty grandstands.
After 190 laps around the 4km oval the race had come down to a two-way battle between Sato and IndyCar five-time drivers champion Scott Dixon, who had spent much of the afternoon out front, leading for 111 laps.
But with the Kiwi stalking Sato and poised to make a move the race was denied a dramatic conclusion when Pigot lost control coming out of Turn Four, slammed the outside wall and spun across the track into the barrier lining pit lane.
With debris from Pigot’s demolished car spread across the track Sato was able to coast home to a relaxed win ahead of Dixon, who had hoped for a red flag to stop the race setting up a final lap shootout for the crown.
At the same time, Fernando Alonso’s bid to become the second driver to complete the Triple Crown of Motorsport, made up of wins at the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours, ended in disappointment and a 21st place finish.
Alonso returns to Formula 1 with Renault next season after two years away from Grand Prix racing, so the Spaniard might have to give up his Indy ambitions.