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Takuma Sato becomes first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500

The century of racing in the Indianapolis 500 is filled with drivers who found disappointment, their dreams of winning the iconic race abruptly shattered by crashes, engine failures, botched pit stops and bad luck.

But sometimes there is redemption at the Brickyard, as Takuma Sato can attest.

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The 40-year-old Sato won the 101st running of the Indy 500 on Sunday by holding off a charging Helio Castroneves in the final laps, becoming the first Japanese driver to capture the Memorial Day weekend classic.

His victory came five years after Sato tried to win the race with an aggressive last-lap pass of Dario Franchitti that backfired when Sato lost control and slammed into the wall, enabling Franchitti to capture the win.

This time it was Sato who enjoyed the Indy 500 victor's traditions of drinking from a bottle of milk and kissing the strip of bricks at the start-finish line that's held over from the old surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As he knelt to smooch the surface, Sato also was wearing the winner's traditional wreath of flowers around his neck — with a Japanese flag draped over it.

“Unbelievable feeling,” Sato said after he climbed from his car prepared by the Andretti Autosport team, which Sato joined this season. “It’s beautiful. I dreamed of something like this since I was 12.”

Sato said what happened in 2012 no longer mattered, but agreed that he felt some redemption.

"I'm so I happy I made it," he said. "It's such a privilege to win here."

It was Sato’s second career victory in the Verizon IndyCar Series; his first was the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2013, when he drove for A.J. Foyt Racing.

But with an Indy 500 victory, "I know how big this news is going to be tomorrow when they wake up in Japan," Sato's team owner Michael Andretti said.

As more than 250,000 spectators looked on, including Vice President (and former Indiana governor) Mike Pence, Sato started fourth in the 33-car field and then, with less than 10 laps left, passed Castroneves for the lead.

"I knew I could do it but I was waiting for the moment and the last few laps there was a moment," said Sato, who also once drove in the Formula One series.

Then it was up to Sato to keep Castroneves behind Sato's No. 26 Honda-powered car.

Castroneves, a Brazilian hoping to become only the fourth driver in history to win the Indy 500 four times, tried in vain to pass Sato but couldn't clear him.

“I did everything I could, trust me, everything I could,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske car. “Unfortunately it was just a little bit short.”

The 42-year-old Castroneves then warmly congratulated Sato and, after noting Sato's age, quipped that "we get better when we get old."

Castroneves finished second, rookie Ed Jones was third and Britain's Max Chilton finished fourth.

Fernando Alonso, the two-time Formula One champion making his Indy 500 debut, ran a strong race until his Honda engine failed with 20 laps left. He finished 24th.

Alonso's decision to skip Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix and enter the Indy 500 was the talk of the racing world this month, and his showing Sunday further impressed the sport's fans.

After Alonso's No. 29 car came to a stop on the front straightaway, the crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation as the Spaniard climbed out and walked back to the pits.

"Obviously disappointed not to finish the race," Alonso said, but added that "this has been one of the best experiences in my career."

After starting fifth, Alonso led 27 laps and said that at one point he glanced at the scoring pylon and "saw the 29 on it." Alonso said he hoped someone took a picture of that moment "because I want that picture at home."

Sato's win was the second consecutive Indy 500 victory for Andretti Autosport, which won won last year with then-rookie Alexander Rossi, and its third in the last four years.

Rossi ran well again Sunday for most of the race and the Californian led 23 laps before finishing seventh.

The rest of the top-10 finishers were 2013 winner Tony Kanaan in fifth, followed by two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya, Rossi, Marco Andretti (Michael’s son), Gabby Chaves and Carlos Munoz.

The final shootout between the leaders was set up by a multi-car crash with 17 laps left in the 200-lap race that collected the cars of Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Oriol Servia, among others.

But the scariest crash of the day involved pole-sitter Scott Dixon on Lap 53. His car went airborne and crashed into an inside retaining wall after striking the car of Jay Howard. Both drivers walked away from the crash.

The race narrowly avoided another setback. An hour after Sato's win, a heavy thunderstorm drenched the Brickyard that briefly knocked out power throughout the facility.

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

UPDATES:

3 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details of the race and driver quotes.

This article was originally published at 4:15 p.m.

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