INDIANAPOLIS – Not a day goes by that Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn’t remind Michael Andretti that he didn’t win the Indianapolis 500 as a driver.
Lately, though, rarely a year goes by that IMS doesn’t reward him as a car owner.
Andretti, who led 431 laps in 16 Indy 500s – the highest total by a driver who didn’t win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – scored his second consecutive win and third in the last four 500s as a team owner when Takuma Sato crossed the finish line ahead of Helio Castroneves today.
It also was Andretti’s fifth Indy 500 victory, pulling him closer to Roger Penske’s record of 16.
“That’s awesome,” Andretti said of his total. “Somebody said that to me in victory lane, and I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a big deal.’ Obviously, I couldn’t win the race as a driver, and I think I said this a few years ago, but maybe I was meant to win it a ton of times as an owner. Maybe when I’m 80 years old, I’ll have more wins than Roger.”
To get to No. 5, Andretti’s driver had to outlast one of Penske’s drivers in a rousing finish. Sato, in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, did so with a pass on Castroneves for the lead on Lap 195, then held off his subsequent challenge on the outside in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Chevrolet heading into Turn 1 on Lap 199 to prevail.
“We had the right guy doing it, for sure,” Andretti said. “He drove a superb race. I watched him very closely. There's many times where he was in a difficult situation, and he would get out of the situation. He showed a lot of patience, but then when he had to go, he went.
“There was one move where he passed two cars on the outside in (Turn) 1, which was a very important move, because that gave him the track position of the top two guys in front of him. That was one of the moves of the race, in my opinion. When I saw that, I'm like, ‘Whoa, I think we're going to win this thing.’ He didn't let us down. He drove very, very well.”
The victory came amid disappointing circumstances. Two promising efforts by Andretti Autosport drivers – Ryan Hunter-Reay and Fernando Alonso – ended with mechanical failures. Another Andretti driver, Jack Harvey, crashed.
“I wasn’t very happy when we started losing all of those bullets,” Andretti said. “We had really strong cars, but it just seemed like everyone started to have problems. … I thought, ‘What the heck?’ It was so weird because it was almost like last year.”
In that race, Hunter-Reay and teammate Townsend Bell collided, but Alexander Rossi used a clever strategy to win the race as his car ran out of fuel. As his cars started to fade away today, Andretti remembered what happened in 2016.
“We had two dominant cars and they both took each other out,” Andretti said. “At that point, our best car was 20th. It was a very similar feeling, like, ‘What is going on here?’ But I also knew because of that experience not to give up. We still had some really strong cars. Then you just started watching Takuma start picking them off. I was like, ‘Hmmm, we might have a shot here.’”
Andretti’s team had six drivers in today’s race, and they combined to lead 95 laps. Rossi, who led 23 laps, finished seventh after a fueling problem on his final pit stop, and Marco Andretti, who encountered a variety of issues throughout the race, rallied back to finish eighth.
“The difficult part of having multiple cars is not everybody is going to be happy,” Michael Andretti said. “There's some other cars that were very, very strong today that we had that ran into bad luck. I feel really bad for them. But that's why we have six bullets in the gun.”
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