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Memory Lane: Franchitti vs. Sato, 2012

The 2012 Indianapolis 500 featured a then-race record 34 lead changes, but the biggest moment of the race came when the top spot didn’t change hands.

Dario Franchitti completed a wild race of musical chairs up front by taking the lead from Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon on Lap 199. Takuma Sato also swept past Dixon for second, as the new Dallara chassis for the 2012 season created an incredible amount of slipstreaming battles and passing on the 2.5-mile oval.

Franchitti and Sato then roared past the flag stand with the white flag in the air and the huge crowd on its feet, ready to decide the newest face on the Borg-Warner Trophy with one lap remaining.

The contrast between the two drivers couldn’t have been starker.

Scotsman Franchitti aspired to race Formula One as a youngster and teen but instead came to America and became a legend in Indy car racing. He entered the 2012 edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with four Verizon IndyCar Series championships to his name and was trying to become just the 10th driver with at least three Indy 500 victories.

Dario Franchitti

Japanese driver Sato raced in F1 from 2002-08 and then moved to IndyCar in 2010 with a reputation for being fast but a bit reckless behind the wheel. He was winless in F1 and in his budding IndyCar career entering the Month of May in 2012, driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Takuma Sato

But Sato was a true contender for victory that day at Indianapolis as he and Franchitti crossed the Yard of Bricks to start one final trip at speed around the oval. He had climbed from the 19th starting spot to lead three times for 31 laps in his Honda-powered machine.

Sato pulled up to the gearbox of Franchitti’s Honda-powered machine as both cars roared under the white flag. Sato dove to the inside, and Franchitti instinctively moved down to shrink the hole into which Sato was trying to drive at the entrance of Turn 1.

It was one of the ultimate head-to-head showdowns in Indianapolis 500 history, and neither driver was going to blink on the final lap.

Sato kept his right foot pressed to the floor, with his left wheel dipping below the white line as his car tried to slip past Franchitti, on his right, for the lead.

Then Sato’s blue-and-white car did a three-quarter spin at the apex of Turn 1, and his machine -- and dreams of Indianapolis 500 glory – crashed against the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1. Replays were inconclusive as to whether the cars made contact.

Franchitti moved higher up the track to avoid Sato’s spinning car, and he barely held on to his machine to keep the lead when the caution flag flew, ensuring his third Indianapolis 500 victory.

Dario Franchitti

While Franchitti basked in the glory of drinking milk in Victory Lane for the third time, Sato gained enormous respect and adulation from fellow drivers and fans for his brave, refuse-to-lift effort on the last lap despite his 17th-place finish after the crash.

No one ever would take Takuma Sato lightly again at Indianapolis after that day, and Sato would earn popular redemption for the 2012 crash when he won the “500” five years later.

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