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Sato sensational at Long Beach Grand Prix

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Sato sensational at Long Beach Grand Prix

Takuma Soto won the 39th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the IZOD IndyCar Series.

DALE BOSOWSKI/The Bulletin


POSTED April 22, 2013 12:15 a.m.

LONG BEACH — Takuma Sato, driving the ABC Supply Co #14 Honda for AJ Foyt Racing, became the first Japanese born driver to win an Indy Car race by taking a commanding victory in Sunday’s 39th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the IZOD IndyCar Series.

“This will be great news for Japan,” said Sato. “Japan has had such a tough time after the earthquake. The people have suffered so much and I am happy to give them some good news to wake up to because it is very early in Japan.”

Polesitter Dario Franchitti, driver of the Team Target/Ganassi #10, led through the early laps of the 80-lap race as defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (Team DHL/Andretti) nipped at his tail. Hunter-Reay was able to inch into the lead at the start of the seventh lap, but Franchitti was able to repass him by holding the inside line as they braked going into Turn #1, the sharp left at the end of the straight.

Sato was able to slip past Hunter-Reay in that same corner on lap 22 and slowly began to reel in Franchitti who was now out in front by two seconds.

Sato darted into the pits for the first of his two scheduled pit stops on lap 28 and Franchitti went in for new tires and fuel on lap later. Franchitti’s decision to go an extra lap before pitting played a pivotal role in the race when a full-course yellow caution came out after Alex Tagliani and Charlie Kimball tagged the wall hard in Turn #8.

When the race resumed on lap 35, Sato found himself in the lead over second-generation driver Graham Rahal (#15 Midas/Big O Tires of Rahal Letterman Racing) and Frenchman Tristan Vautier.

Sato would never look back, surviving several more restarts following cautions and his final pit stop of the day on lap #51 to earn his first victory in 52 starts by 4.9924 seconds over Rahal.

“It was just an amazing day. The car was just so fun to drive I really didn’t want the race to end,” said Sato. “There was a little tension in the last five laps. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t make a mistake.”

Englishman Justin Wilson, who started 25th in the 27 car field, also benefited from some timely pit stops to edge Franchitti for third and JR Hildebrand, of Sausalito, CA, rounded out the top five while a late race problem dropped Vautier to 17th.

It was also the 44th Indy Car win for AJ Foyt Racing, but the team’s first since Kansas in 2002. The legendary owner, who has four Indy 500 victories in his extraordinary driving career, was unable to make the trip to Long Beach. His son Larry Foyt was handling the operation this weekend and said his dad watched the entire race from his home in Texas and was very pleased.

Larry was also impressed by Sato’s drive and his team’s effort.

“Everything was perfect, the pit stops, the starts, there were no mistakes. I don’t think you could run a more perfect race,” he said afterward. “We’ve had the speed and today we put it all together.”

Although Rahal was tantalizingly close to his second career win, he was satisfied with runner up finish.

“To be honest, there was nothing we could do,” conceded Rahal, whose father Bobby finished in second place four times at Long Beach. “He had more speed than we did on the restarts and although I was able to pull close, but couldn’t do much else.”

The IndyCar season will continue on April 29 when the series heads to Brazil for the Sao Paulo 300 on May 5 and then to Indianapolis for the month of May in preparation for the 96th running of the Indy 500 on May 26.

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