Sato wins Long Beach GP for AJ Foyt (Updated)
It was the first big-time open wheel win for the Japanese driver who came from F1 and the win came in his 52nd start. Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IZOD IndyCar Series race and in so doing, he ended a winless streak for AJ Foyt Racing that stretched back to 2002 when Brazilian Airton Dare narrowly edged out Sam Hornish Jr. at Kansas Speedway.
There was nothing close about this finish because Sato had built a four-second lead over runner-up Graham Rahal when the race was slowed on the final lap because of contact between Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.
“Takuma made it look too easy but it made me so nervous watching that race today,” said Team Director Larry Foyt. “He just drove a flawless race. I’ve never seen a guy drive a race like that, a perfect race. The car was great, the engineers [chief engineer Don Halliday and performance engineer Raul Prados] did a great set-up and what a pit crew, those ABC guys were fast today. It just all came together. We’ve had flashes of being really quick but we knew we just had to put it all together. The ABC car looked awesome running up front all day.”
From the start of the 80-lap race around the streets of Long Beach, Sato, who started fourth, served notice that he was a contender as he beat defending race winner and row-mate Will Power to the first turn. Slipping into third, Sato set his sights on the Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. As Hunter-Reay’s tires began to wear, Sato closed in and passed Hunter-Reay to take second on lap 23.
On lap 28, Sato pitted for fuel and tires with the ABC Supply team slapping on the softer alternate [red] tires in eight seconds flat. As the stops cycled out, a full course caution came out on lap 30 for an accident between Charlie Kimball and Alex Tagliani. Sato assumed the lead on lap 31 when Power pitted.
And he never lost the lead in large part due to the quick work of his pit crew. On lap 51, the ABC crew serviced the car in just 6.9 seconds during a full course yellow for Hunter-Reay’s single car incident.
Twenty-nine laps later Sato was sailing under the checkered flag and bringing Honda its first victory of the season. “Honda has been a great supporter of the Series and a strong partner for AJ Foyt Racing,” Sato said. “I am honored to bring them their first win of the year--and it was cool to be part of an all Honda podium!”
Sato’s victory, plus leading the most laps (50) gave him enough points to vault from 12th to second in the IZOD IndyCar point standings; he is just six markers behind leader Helio Castroneves. Sato was quick to extol the virtues of his team.
“Larry called a great race and the boys had two fantastic pit stops, they did a great job,” Sato said. “Every restart was always risky and I made a commitment if I needed to, but otherwise I tried to avoid any risk. In the end, I was just cruising, enjoying it. The win came because everything had come together. Winning is not easy, but it felt so natural and comfortable that it seemed easy. Towards the end, I pushed hard because I knew Graham [Rahal] was quick, and I knew I had to save fuel but also save the tires. So I didn’t push too hard at the beginning but just maintained a good pace. That was a key to our strength today.
“I want to say a big thanks to everyone who supported us--of course, ABC Supply, Panasonic and all of the associate sponsors including Alfe and Greer, the boys back in the shop and everyone in A.J. Foyt’s family. Everyone made it happen for me today and I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
A.J. Foyt, who was not at the race because of a back ailment (he is scheduled to have surgery in Houston to repair it this week) was watching the race from his home in Houston.
Sato is the third winner in as many IZOD IndyCar Series races this season.
Graham Rahal was 2nd ahead of Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti to give Honda a 1-2-3-4 sweep.
"I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend," said Rahal, whose father and team co-owner, Bobby Rahal, was a Long Beach race runner-up four times. "We came out here and the Midas/Big O Tires car was right there all week. To be honest, it just feels phenomenal to get this result."
JR Hildebrand finished fifth at Long Beach for the second consecutive year.
Andretti, driving the No. 25 RC Cola car, recovered from a qualifying penalty that sent him to the 25th starting position in the 80-lap Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to finish sixth. He previously finished third and seventh this season.
“Going into this, I knew that this would be about the best we would finish," he said. "I am definitely pleased with how we climbed our way through the field and how we stayed consistent throughout the day. We knew that if we just stayed in the race and didn’t make any mistakes, we would be good."
Andretti is fourth in the championship standings heading into the street course race in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 5. An Andretti Autosport car won the first two races of the season.
In a typical Long Beach race a number of drivers crashed into the tire barriers, including defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay with 30 laps to go.
At the start polesitter Dario Franchitti grabbed the lead from Hunter-Reay in Turn 1. Although the first lap at Long Beach has historically been setback by crashes, this year lap 1 was run clean.
But that didn't last long.
On lap 2 rookie Tristan Vautier ran into the back of Scott Dixon, spin him out, and cuts his left rear.
Others to crash included James Hinchcliffe, Sebastian Saavedra, Servia and Tony Kanaan.
Race Control has further reviewed the last-lap accident between No. 11 (Kanaan) and No. 22 (Servia) post-race and has rescinded the 30-second penalty issued to the No. 22 car for avoidable contact.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Sao Paulo Indy 300 on May 5 on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The race will be telecast live at 11 a.m. (ET) by NBC Sports Network.
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Honda, winner Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach): “It was just a perfect weekend to be honest. The team did a tremendous job. Pit stops, right calls, the power was great and I was comfortable in the car and able to push everything. (About pit stops): “Super job. Super job. We had a pit issue the last two races, but today is just amazing the whole crew did a tremendous job.” (What win will mean in Japan): “It great news for the Japanese. Japan has had such a tough time after the earthquake. I’m really happy to give everybody some good news to wake up to because it’s very early Japanese time.
LARRY FOYT (Managing Director, A.J. Foyt Racing): "I wish (A.J. Foyt) was here. We hate it because he is definitely our big leader and he is the big boss man. This is for him." (About win): “Takuma made it look too easy. It made me so nervous watching it out there. He just drove a flawless race. I've never seen a race like that. Just a perfect race. And the car was great. The engineers did a great set up. And what a pit crew. Those guys were fast today. And it just all came together. We have been saying that. We've had flashes of being really quick and we just had to bring it all together. The ABC car just looked awesome up front all day."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires Honda): “I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend. We came out here and the Midas/Big O Tires car was right there all week. Qualifying was a little bit disappointing to be 11th but we were in the top-five in almost every session. I felt going into the race that is exactly what we could do there. To be honest is just feels phenomenal to get this result. God I came so close to winning yet again. On the last restart if (Charlie) Kimball weren’t in the way we would have had a great run at it. And clearly he overshot himself into (Turn) 1. Man it felt so good to be on the podium here.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “It was a little bit of luck, circumstances and the team did a great job on strategy. We pitted on Lap 5 or 6. Came in and put the reds on. We had plenty of reds because we didn’t qualify. We just went out there and pushed hard the entire race. I think that helped having an extra set, being able to pick a few people off. It’s great to get this result for the Boy Scouts of America and everyone at Dale Coyne Racing. They’ve worked hard to put the car back together on Friday so I have to thank them. It’s also good for Honda here at Long Beach to get 1-2-3-4. I think it’s fantastic.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Not ideal we lost, you know we lost a couple of spots in the pits and then we lost another one there on the restart with Charlie being a lap down and I don’t know what the hell he was doing. With a crash right in front of us, I had to lift to avoid it. And Justin got by after that and the guys in the front were pretty evenly matched after that, as Justin and I were. And I couldn’t get close enough to make a move and then I had to start watching my fuel. Yea, you know not another great day for the Target team, but after the first two results this is a lot better. We’re getting there, we’re getting there.”
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Honda): “I’m really proud of the run we had and the pit crew guys did such an awesome job, because we made up three or four of those spots in the pits on our last stop. We struggled in the first stint and were going backwards, but we had a great strategy and ended up on the sticker reds in the end and I was able to pass several guys there at the end just using the overtake. I didn’t see (the incident between Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan) because I’d let those guys go a little bit while we were saving to make sure we had enough fuel. I saw some tire smoke as I approached Turn One and was able to split through the middle. Really happy to get another Top Five here for the second year in a row, but we’ll make sure we put the work in to make sure we’re ready to rock-n-roll next week. If we continue to make gains like we have we’ll be running up front with the big boys a lot more often.”
RYAN HUNTER REAY (No. 1 DHL Chevrolet): “I just started getting desperate. We couldn't go anywhere. We missed some of the grip today that we had in prior days. Some of the corners that were my strongest were my weakest today. I was definitely handcuffed, so we just started trying things. We were in the back anyway, I had to move forward again and I just got in too hot, no grip on the inside there. Just trying things, trying anything to make a bad day go a little better, but it just went from bad to worse. I feel really bad for the guys, they gave me a great car all weekend, we just missed it today. I absolutely missed it out there on the track, so we have to rebound in Brazil for sure and try to get the DHL Chevy on top again.”
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