A more jubilant race winner than TAKUMA SATO/A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach would be hard to find. The first-time IZOD IndyCar victor jumped into the arms of his team, was draped with the Japanese flag, and was bear-hugged by third-place finisher, JUSTIN WILSON/Dale Coyne Racing. Along with hearty congratulations from runner-up GRAHAM RAHAL/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sato was greeted by fourth-place finisher DARIO FRANCHITTI/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and others.
Sato’s win from starting fourth vaults him to second overall in the standings, six points behind HELIO CASTRONEVES/Team Penske Chevrolet, who finished tenth Sunday.
The one disappointment for Sato was that his team owner, A.J. FOYT, wasn’t at the race. Instead, he’s at home awaiting surgery for a sciatic nerve problem. He insists he will be at Indianapolis next month. Both Sato and Team Director, son LARRY FOYT, talked with Foyt by phone after the race, who said he “was happy and proud.”
Foyt said “Sato has done a great job all three weekends. He was great on every restart, hit is marks, never seen such a perfect race. I never saw him make a mistake all day. I think it’s great he got his first win. He shows it’s not a closed shop and anyone can win. We tightened up the small team and have the same group and team as 2012.
Sato kept talking about his perfect race. “I tried to keep calm today. I enjoyed the driving and didn’t want the race to end. There was tension at the end.”
About what his victory means back home in Japan, where Sato becomes the first Japanese to win an IndyCar race, he said “Any win is great for us in Japan. Hopefully this will cheer them up after all their bad news. Any win is really great news for us, particularly that we had such a tragedy with the earthquakes. People are still on the way back; 300,000 people still don’t have a home, have temporary living.
“Unfortunately we don’t have IndyCar in Japan, but hopefully soon, said Sato.”
It was a really big deal back home, where Sato’s victory dominated the news, with front-page mainstream newspaper cover, top TV features and news reports,
The trickle down effect on the IndyCar series as a whole was huge, with ten times the number of ‘Likes’ on the IndyCar Facebook page.
Sato, who started fourth on black tires, dogged then second-place RYAN HUNTER-REAY/Andretti Autosport Chevrolet on reds before finally making it stick on Lap 22. Sato then took over the lead during pit stops on Lap 29, and never looked back. He built up an impressive margin before the final caution on the White Flag lap, kept his followers more than five seconds behind.
Later, in the post-race media conference, Rahal and Wilson teased and joked with Sato, about their respective heights – six-foot two (Wilson is actually even taller), and the diminutive Sato, who is five-foot four, and not much over a hundred pounds.
A more unlikely combination couldn’t be imagined than the daring Japanese driver, Sato, and the out-spoken good-old Texas boy, Foyt. But it seems to be working. So far Sato has had two Fast Six starts (front row at St. Pete and fourth at Long Beach) and Sato’s win is the first IndyCar victory for Foyt since 2002.
It was noted that all three drivers were racing Hondas, as was the fourth place finisher, pole sitter DARIO FRANCHITTI/Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and all of the top three were from smaller teams.
“It’s been nothing but an upside for us, said Rahal. ‘The superpower three teams’ made a little slip this weekend and here we are.” He added “that it was indicative of just how competitive the IndyCar field has become. There are no bad racers here any more.”
Wilson said “The racing has gotten so competitive. We’ve got to work harder to make Fast Six, and it’s just gonna get harder.”
Regarding the Honda sweep, Wilson said “There are no favoritism with Honda.”
Rahal said “We as drivers have pushed on Honda for engine performance and the response they’ve given us has been phenomenal Today’s finish will make our visit to their home town office here tomorrow all the better.” Rahal referenced an already-scheduled visit of all the Honda drivers to the Southern California Honda headquarters.
Wilson’s comment on the subject was “That kind of grit and determination to come back strong is what Honda is all about. They never gave up until they win.
Rahal said the tire situation was exactly what it was meant to be. “Blacks were best for me. Each car handles them differently. Good mix.”
The next race is 5 May 2013 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.