04/23 2013

Sato And Foyt Savor ‘Perfect Weekend’ In Long Beach

Sato And Foyt Savor ‘Perfect Weekend’ In Long Beach

John Sturbin | Senior Writer,

Hours after scoring his first IZOD IndyCar Series win, Takuma Sato paused long enough to allow his rapid-fire Victory Lane celebration, photo shoot, press conference, one-on-one interviews and satellite media tour to sink in.

“Winning is very busy!” said Sato, summing-up a flawless performance for himself and A.J. Foyt Racing during Sunday’s 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. “This was one of the greatest days of my racing career.”

Sato, who started fourth on the famed 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit, became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar Series race. In doing so, he ended a winless streak for team-owner/open-wheel icon Foyt stretching to July 7, 2002, when Brazilian Airton Dare edged Sam Hornish Jr. on the Kansas Speedway oval.

Sato’s victory in the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda was the 44th for Foyt Racing, the Texas-based organization headed by team manager Larry Foyt, A.J.’s son. Incredibly, the team’s most recent road/street course victory was scored by A.J. on Oct. 1, 1978 at Silverstone, England. Foyt, who is dealing with a sciatic nerve condition, was forced to watch the race from his home in Houston.

“I’m just so happy because they did a great job and Takuma drove a helluva race,” said “Super Tex,” 78, who is scheduled to undergo back surgery in Houston this week. “Larry did a great job, and Don (chief engineer Don Halliday) and the whole team just did a fantastic job. We’ve had the support of ABC for quite a while now and it’s terrific to finally get that ABC car in the winner’s circle.

“I’ve been in Victory Lane a lot myself (67 open-wheel wins) and I know what that’s like; I’m so glad to see them there. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with everybody but I’m glad it shows they can win without me. And now they’re going to have to win with me, because I will be at Indy.” The first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Foyt plans to be in Gasoline Alley and along pit row for the 97th edition of the race next month.

“I wish (A.J.) was here,” said Larry Foyt, who also is the team’s race strategist. “We hate it because he is definitely our big leader and the big boss man. This is for him. Takuma made it look too easy. It made me so nervous watching it out there. He just drove a flawless race.”

Foyt’s single-car team was joined on the podium by runnerup Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and third-place Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing.

Making his 52nd IndyCar Series start, Sato overtook reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport for second on Lap 23 of 80 and assumed the point on Lap 30 when race-leader Will Power of Team Penske pitted under yellow. For the remainder of the race, Sato ran strong on both the Firestone Firehawk primary and alternate tires.

“It was just a perfect weekend, to be honest,” said Sato, whose previous best career finish was second on the Streets of Edmonton on July 22, 2012. “The team did a tremendous job. It is great news for the Japanese. Japan has had such a tough time after the earthquake (and tsunami). I’m really happy to give everybody some good news.

“The car was great to drive _ it was so much fun to drive. We managed both types of tires very well and we were able to conserve fuel when we needed to do so. Everything was under control. I just had to make sure there was no bad luck and no mistakes.”

Sato led Rahal across the finish line under caution. But there was nothing close about the finish as Sato had built a lead of 4.9924-seconds over Rahal when the race was slowed on the final lap because of contact between Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.

“I’ve never seen a guy drive a race like that, a perfect race,” Larry Foyt said of Sato. “The car was great, the engineers (Halliday and performance engineer Raul Prados) did a great set-up and what a pit crew _ those 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.”

Sato served notice that he would be a contender when he beat defending race-winner and Row 2 mate Power into Turn 1. Slipping into third, Sato set his sights on Hunter-Reay. As Hunter-Reay’s tires began to wear, Sato closed in and passed him to take second on Lap 23. On Lap 28, Sato pitted for fuel and tires with the No. 14 team slapping on the softer alternate (red) tires in eight seconds.

As the pit stops cycled-out, a full-course caution flew on Lap 30 for an accident between Charlie Kimball and Alex Tagliani. Sato assumed the lead on Lap 31 when Power pitted, and never looked back.

Sato’s pit crew did its part again on Lap 51, servicing the car in just 6.9-seconds during a full-course yellow for Hunter-Reay’s single-car incident. Twenty-nine laps later, Sato sailed under the checkered flag and brought Honda its first victory of the season over engine manufacturer rival Chevrolet.

“Honda has been a great supporter of the series and a strong partner for A.J. Foyt Racing,” said Sato, who joined James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport and teammate Hunter-Reay as race-winners this season. “I am honored to bring them (Honda Performance Development) their first win of the year _ and it was cool to be part of an all-Honda podium.”

Sato’s ties to Honda date to his Formula One career with the Lucky Strike BAR Honda team from 2003 through 2005. Sato also drove in F1 for Super Aguri F1 from 2006-08. A former high school cycling champion in Tokyo, Sato resides in Denver, where he regularly trains in the high-altitude conditions.

Sato’s victory and race-leading 50 laps-led gave him enough points to vault from 12th to second in the driver standings after three events. He is just six points (99-93) behind leader Helio Castroneves of Team Penske heading to the street circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 5. Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, a two-time series champion, is third in points with 89 and two ahead of Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport. Wilson is fourth with 81 points.

Sato finished 14th in the driver standings last year for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He joined Foyt Racing during the offseason as the replacement for Englishman Mike Conway. Sato, 36, drove for KV Racing Technology in 2010 and 2011, recording seven top-10 finishes with a best of fourth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during that second campaign.

“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 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.

“I want to say a big thanks to everyone who supported us _ 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.”

Rahal posted his best result since finishing second under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2012. Wilson, who won that race in Fort Worth, advanced from the 24th starting position to finish third.

“I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires Dallara/Honda. “We came out here and the 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’s exactly what we could do there.”

Rahal ‘s previous best finish at Long Beach was eighth in 2007. Rahal’s father and team-owner, Bobby, finished second at Long Beach in 1988 and 1991-93. “To be honest, it just feels phenomenal to get this result,” Graham Rahal said after his first podium of the season. “God, I came so close to winning yet again. On the last restart if 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.”

Englishman Wilson scored his third podium at Long Beach, including second-place results in 2006 and 2010. “It was a little bit of luck, circumstances and the team did a great job on strategy,” said Wilson, driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Dallara/Honda. “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 (sponsor) 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.” Pole-sitter and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti finished fourth for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, his best result of the season.

Results Sunday of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.968 mile Streets of Long Beach, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (4) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

2. (11) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

3. (24) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

4. (1) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

5. (12) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

6. (18) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

7. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

8. (17) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

9. (19) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

10. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

11. (26) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

12. (13) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

13. (16) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

14. (22) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

15. (15) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

16. (3) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

17. (27) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 80, Running

18. (23) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 80, Running

19. (21) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 79, Running

20. (8) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 78, Contact

21. (9) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 78, Running

22. (10) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 53, Running

23. (14) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy, 51, Mechanical

24. (2) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 49, Contact

25. (5) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 38, Electrical

26. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 34, Contact

27. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 1, Contact

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 85.763

Time of Race: 01:50:08.7155

Margin of victory: Under caution

Cautions: 5 for 16 laps

Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders:

Franchitti 1 – 6

Hunter-Reay 7

Franchitti 8 – 28

Power 29 – 30

Sato 31 – 80

Point Standings: Castroneves 99, Sato 93, Dixon 89, Andretti 87, Wilson 81, Hunter-Reay 73, Rahal 66, Power 62, de Silvestro 62, Hinchcliffe 61.