Sato in perfect run at Long Beach

Sato in perfect run at Long Beach
Apr 22, 2013, 1:33 AM

The final battle on the streets of Long Beach saw A.J. Foyt Racing back in the winner circle. The celebration will last for a bit of time as Sato became the first Japanese driver to capture an IndyCar race.

Long Beach, Calif. – Takuma Sato drove the best race of his life to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the third race of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Driving the ABC Supply A. J. Foyt Honda, Sato led 50 of the 80 laps around the twisting street course in Long Beach, winning for the first in his IndyCar career.

In winning, Sato became the first Japanese driver to capture an IndyCar race, and it came in his 52nd start. For the famed Foyt team, it won for the first time since Airton Dare took them to victory in Kansas in 2002, and today’s win was the 44th for Foyt and his team. The last road course win for the team took place at Silverstone, England, in 1978.

“It was a fantastic day and the team did a tremendous job,” Sato said with a huge smile on his face. “The weekend was perfect and in the first two races, we showed great performance but had little issues. This weekend there were no mistakes. Qualifying went well and today went perfect. The car was so much fun to drive, and I could manage both sets of tires (red and black) well.

“On the restarts, I had to be cautious, especially on the last one. At the start of the race, I had the black tire, but I knew (from experience) they would work well if I could hang on to the top three positions, which we did. And it was great day for the Honda engine, and I was very happy with it.

“Larry (Foyt) called a perfect race, and the boys didn’t make one mistake. I am just so proud of A. J. Foyt Racing, and this is such a great start for us.”

Said Larry Foyt, “It was immediate when Takuma (Sato) came in (to the team) that he was good. We knew he was fast, but until you really know someone, you don’t know how well you are going to work together. Our first working relationship was a 7-day Caribbean Cruise with ABC Supply, so we got to know each other well. It was a perfect run today.”

The younger Foyt credited his father for being open to change and for allowing him to put together a cohesive group that has been together for two seasons.

A.J. Foyt was not at the track as he is laid up with a sciatica problem, for which he will have surgery on it Wednesday. However, he did watch the race on television and in a post-race telephone interview, he reportedly said how happy he was, saying in calm voice, “The last five laps were the longest of anything (in my life). We’ve had a lot of drivers, but none wanted to win. This boy wants to win.”

Five seconds behind came Graham Rahal, who had started 11th in the Midas/Big O Tires Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Team co-owner Bobby Rahal finished second four times here.

“We had more fun this weekend than we have had in the last couple (of races),” the young driver said. “Today was great because it all came together. We had had the speed, and we should have done better at St. Pete, but we couldn’t see it through. Without a doubt, it feels great to be on the podium at Long Beach, but obviously I would like to win. One of these days we are going to win one.

“And what a great day for Honda; they responded in a great way today and with this being their home, I am very happy for them.”

Starting 25th after having a miserable start to the weekend, Justin Wilson and his Dale Coyne Racing (Honda) team relied upon a unique pit strategy and precision driving to put their car on the podium in third place.

“It was a pretty crazy race,” the Brit said. “I am still kind of confused as to how I got up here. We had a good car and we pushed hard. We had a great strategy and the guys decided to pit on lap five, as we had plenty of red tires left over and we decided to use them today. It was a perfect strategy and with the red tires on, we were able to get by many people and since we had five or six more laps of fuel, we were able to keep going and to make the most of the situation.”

Coming into the race, Wilson thought a top-10 or 12 finish would be a good one. “To finish on the podium is fantastic. Everyone worked so hard after the crash on Friday to put the car back together, and we made lots of changes to the car. It was a real team effort.”

Fast qualifier Dario Franchitti took the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to a fourth place finish. He led 27 laps and was perplexed with the outcome.

“Not ideal that we lost,” he said. “We lost a couple of spots in the pits and then we lost another on a restart with Charlie (Kimball) being a lap down, and I don’t know what the hell he was doing. Then there was a crash in front of us, and I had to life to avoid it (and Wilson got by him).”

Honda swept the top-four finishing positions, showing how diligent the company has been in stepping up its program.

J. R. Hildebrand took fifth place.

Sixth through 10th were Oriol Servia, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro and Helio Castroneves.

Five incidents slowed the race for 16 laps. One incident led to a DNF by Barber race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who exited on the 49th lap after slamming into a tire barrier. He was scored 24th. Hunter-Reay blamed himself for the outcome, saying he was getting desperate.

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Sato claims first win on streets of Long Beach

Sato claims first win on streets of Long Beach
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