Japan's Takuma Sato held off Scott Dixon over the final 20 laps Sunday to capture the 104th Indianapolis 500, taking his second Indy 500 victory after his first front-row start.
The 43-year-old from Tokyo, who also won in 2017, kept New Zealand's Dixon at bay down the stretch before a crash by Spencer Pigot with five laps remaining brought out yellow flags and the race finished under slow-speed caution conditions.
"It's unbelievable," Sato said. "It's great. I'm proud to win again."
Sato, who started from the outside of row one, drove his Honda-powered Dallara across the finish line after 200 laps around the 2 1/2-mile (4km) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval just ahead of Dixon and American Graham Rahal in third in a ceremonial finish.
Ten minutes earlier, Dixon was racing just behind Sato on the same straightaway desperately trying to pass him but unable to get by.
"I knew Scott was coming right through," Sato said. "Coming out of turn four he was screaming. I just held him off."
Sato car owner Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 winner, was worried when the winner came upon slower traffic with nine laps remaining.
"Takuma ran hard all day long," the elder Rahal said. "I was worried when he ran into that traffic but he got through it pretty good. And then the accident. Who knows what would have happened the last five laps?"
That's the haunting question facing Dixon, who led 111 laps but settled for his third runner-up finish at Indy after 2007 and 2012 -- all three of them coming under caution.
"It's definitely a hard one to swallow for sure," Dixon said. "It's hard when it slips away like that.
"Congratulations to Sato. He drove his pants off today."
Sato, the first Asian driver to win the Indy 500, waved the Japanese flag on the winner's platform.
"I hope this gives a little boost for their energy," Sato said. "Thanks for the support."
The oval classic was moved from its usual late May date due to COVID-19 concerns that delayed the start of the season until June and prevented spectators from attending.
The race hung on a knife's edge after Sato passed slower traffic but any closing drama was ended when US racer Pigot crashed in the fourth turn and skidded into the end of the barrier at the edge of the track where pit row begins. Pigot was awake and alert and walked from the car but was hospitalized for observation.
The race was finished under caution rather than halted and restarted as Dixon hoped might happen.
"Fuel mileage, I can't see how they were going to make it," Dixon said. "They just decided to go and run it.
"I thought they were going to throw a red flag. We would have had an interesting five laps."
Dixon led after a restart with 28 laps remaining but a few laps later, Sato made the crucial pass on the outside on the front straightaway and Dixon could never overtake him.
"We had the mindset and the fuel to get to the end," Dixon said. "But you let it slip and that's what happens."
Pole-sitter Marco Andretti settled for 13th with two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso of Spain finishing 21st and 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud of France in 22nd.
- Rossi undone by penalty -
Dixon passed pole-sitter Marco Andretti on the outside of the first turn of the race and dominated early.
A crash by Spanish rookie Alex Palau sent leaders to the pits on lap 125, with Dixon out first.
Rossi nudged Sato as both tried to exit pit row. Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner, was penalized and sent to the back of the field for what the chief steward ruled "an unsafe release."
"I don't even want to talk about the penalty," Rossi said. "I'm going to have a long talk with somebody about that. It's obviously frustrating."
Fast-charging Rossi crashed 12 laps later on the outside of turn two.
"We were never planning on being that far back. We just lost it," Rossi said. "A lot of dirty air back there."