(Reuters) - Japan's Takuma Sato won the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in four years on Sunday after a late crash saw the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" come to a less than thrilling end under caution.
Sato, who had been locked in a ferocious battle with Scott Dixon, cruised across the finish line unchallenged after Spencer Pigot crashed hard into the wall with five laps to run, bringing out the yellow caution flag.
The 43-year-old driver was already the first from Japan to win the Indy 500 after putting his car on Victory Lane at the famed Brickyard in 2017.
Billed as the world's biggest single day sporting event, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would normally be packed with 300,000 fans. But with no spectators allowed into the sprawling facility because of COVID-19 safety protocols, Sato was denied the thundering ovation that usually goes with victory.
He 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.
"When you're driving obviously we (are) concentrating on what's happening on the track, but we see the grandstand all the time," said Sato, who moved to IndyCar after racing several years in Formula One. "Every driver, every single lap, every single corner...just the gray grandstand. That was a little bit sad.
"But you (are) always hungry to win the race, no matter who you are, how many races.
"There's just an energy that is Indy 500."
After 190 laps around the 2.5-mile (4 km) 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 Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, 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 the 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 a frustrated Dixon, who had hoped for a red flag to stop the race setting up a final lap shootout for the crown.
"It’s definitely a hard one to swallow for sure," said Dixon. "I thought they were definitely going to throw a red flag, which would have been exciting for the last four or five laps...it’s hard when it slips away like that."
While Dixon and Sato both started on the front row, the buildup to Sunday's race was focused on the driver alongside them, pole sitter Marco Andretti.
The Andrettis have ruled over open wheel racing in the United States with a string of victories that have connected generations -- father (Mario), to son (Michael), to grandson (Marco).
But for all their success at circuits around the world, Mario's Indy 500 victory in 1969 stands alone - the clan's cruel luck at the Brickyard giving rise to the "Andretti Curse".
In the end the curse remained intact, Marco was overtaken by Dixon before they had reached the first turn finishing in 13th.
Fernando Alonso's bid to become just the second driver to complete the Triple Crown of Motorsport, which also includes wins at the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours, ended in disappointment and a 21st place finish.
It might be the last chance in some time for the Spaniard to realize his dream as he is due to return to Formula One with Renault next season after two years away from Grand Prix racing.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Christian Schmollinger)