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The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Apr 22, 2013

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Sato wins the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (John Grafman)

Story by Brian Kennedy Pictures by John Grafman A Day of Firsts Takuma Sato won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Sunday, his first victory in the series and the first one ever for a Japanese driver. Also marking a first was the first time that there was no driver from one of the super teams, Andretti, Ganassi, or Penske on the podium since, by one account, 2008. Perhaps less of a first but somewhat surprising is that Sato comes from a one-car team, and thus has none of the advantages in engineering or budget sharing that the bigger teams do. And then, in a somewhat joking aside as noted by third-place finisher Justin Wilson, it was the first “inverse podium” in IndyCar history. That’s not an official stat, but Wilson was referring to the stair-stepping of sizes in the three drivers on the podium. He is the tallest driver in IndyCar (perhaps open-wheel history) at 6’3”. Graham Rahal, who was second, is just slightly shorter at 6’2”. And, as Rahal said it Sunday, “It’s the first time two guys over 6’2” were on the podium and one under 5’1”.” Sato’s not quite that short. The day was perfect, both weather-wise and for Sato. This time of year generally is bright and moderate in temperature for So Cal, though last year, this race weekend was marred by rain. The temperature was a balmy 70-something, the sun shining Sunday. The other thing that was perfect? Sato’s car, according to his comments after the race. “To and others around us were on reds.” IndyCars run on tires which are of two types—black sidewall and red. The reds are an alternate tire, softer and thus more grippy and faster, but they wear out earlier. Teams must run each type during the race. When is up to their discretion and strategy. Sato led from lap 31-80, after Dario Franchitti had started on pole and led twice early. Also in there was Hunter-Reay, who was out front for lap 7, and Will Power, who was in the lead for 29-30.

Takuma Sato in his Honda-powered IndyCar (John Grafman)

Perhaps furthering Sato’s case for his car, he posted his fastest lap time of the race on lap 70 at 102.404 mph and 69.1851 seconds. The overall fast lap of the contest went to EJ Viso on lap 45, at 102.619 average speed and 69.0401 seconds. After the race, Sato said that he didn’t want to stop, that he could have just kept driving all day, everything in his mount was so right. The day’s excitement didn’t end after the first turn, F1-style. All along, most of the field was close to one another. The pass Wilson completed to put him third happened on lap 59, but he wasn’t expecting such a good result. Afterwards, he said in the press conference, “I’m still confused about why I’m here,” but he credited “perfect strategy” on tires and an early pit stop on lap 5 (under caution) for the podium. “This field’s so tough, I thought maybe top 12 or 10 on the outside chance would be a great day,” he said. He had sat 24th on the grid after not making a qualifying attempt. He crashed on Friday in practice. Rahal had his best prior finish at Long Beach in 2007, an 8th. But his father Bobby has been second at the Beach four times, leading the younger Rahal to say, “Today, it finally came together, but one of these days, a Rahal is going to win Long Beach.” He commented further on how tight the IndyCar fields are: “If you barely miss it, that can be 20 spots. Look at me. Last week I qualified 21st; today I’m second.” Putting the day in perspective, he said, “It feels great to be on the podium in Long Beach. Obviously, we’d like to win here.” He also talked about the tires, saying, “The tire situation is exactly what it was meant to be. I was better on new blacks.” Sato won by 5.3612 seconds, but what impressed was that as the final ten laps or so progressed, he didn’t stay consistent—he got better. His gap back to Rahal was 4.7 seconds on lap 75. Then 4.9 seconds, and then 5 by lap 77, so those watching could continue to feel the impulse that was pushing him forward, without fear of making a mistake. He has been in 52 IndyCar races to date, and his prior best finish was 2nd, at Edmonton last year. Prior to this win, he was viewed as an earnest also-ran with enough talent to win. Now, speculation is that he could get on a roll, and both he and Foyt said that the team’s chemistry has mysteriously gelled of late. Larry Foyt, AJ’s son and the team manager, commented, “When Takuma came in, we obviously knew he was fast, but what you don’t know is how you’re going to work together . . . . So it was great that our first working relationship was a seven-day Carribean cruise [the room breaks up], and we’ve been good friends ever since. . . . No, but you know, there’s already a lot of trust there.” Sato leaves Long Beach 2nd in the season’s points standings after three races. Rahal and Wilson are also in the top ten, at 7th and 5th, respectively. Leading is Castroneves, who started 6th and ended 10th. Pole sitter Franchitti was 4th on the day but is 20th in points. The race had five caution flags, the most interesting one being on the last lap. The official results show that caution as being laps “80 to 80” with the reason, “Contact: cars 11 and 22 in turn 1.” The thing is, the accident happened before Sato got to turn one on his final lap, but the race stayed green. Sato drove past one of the cars still sitting precariously on track coming out of the turn.

Basking in the win (John Grafman)

That was Tony Kanaan, having been taken out by Servia, who managed to finish the race. He had come from last on the grid to finish 6th. Race fans might ask why they would continue green with a car on the track, and it would be a fair question. One final, notable first: it was the first racing for AJ Foyt’s team since 2002. He has won 44 races to date. He was not in attendance, Sato reported what he said to the team by phone: “He’s very happy . . . he said big congratulations to me.” And Foyt added, “He has to have surgery next week, so he said this really lifts [his] spirits. He’s really happy. I hate it that he’s not here. He’s such a big part of what we do, every day.” AJ also reminded his son immediately that it was the first team win since 2002. For the Izod IndyCar series, the good news is that, as Justin Wilson said, “There are so many drivers capable of winning races. When you do your [qualifying] lap in the car, you don’t know when you come in if you’re third, or 25th. It’s really tough. It gets more intense and more interesting as the season goes on.” Rahal added, quoting another driver from earlier in the week, “If you look at the series, there’s just no bad guys here anymore . . . . It’s just so competitive.” The series is well on the way to avoiding the plague of the top few guys just trading the wins around. Some fans might like that (recall various eras of the past when Castroneves, Unser, Bourdais, etc. dominated), but for most, the prospect of seeing a new face smiling behind the trophy on a given weekend is enticing. Teams now move on to Brazil before spending May in Indianoplis leading up to the 500 on the 26th. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, it’s @growinguphockey You can follow LA Car on Twitter @lacarcom RACE RESULTS Finish, Racer, Type of Car, Seconds Behind Leader 1 Takuma Sato, Honda -- 2 Graham Rahal, Honda -5.3612 3 Justin Wilson, Honda -8.2386 4 Dario Franchitti, Honda -12.3573 5 J.R. Hildebrand, Chevrolet -28.2402 6 Oriol Servia, Chevrolet -29.4683 7 Marco Andretti, Chevrolet -30.2703 8 Simon Pagenaud, Honda -31.8574 9 Simona Del Silvestro, Chevrolet -33.1224 10 Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet -33.4118 To read LA Car's report on the Indy Lights at Long Beach, go to Shake, Rattle and Roll To read LA Car's report on the Pirelli World Challenge, go to Saving the Best for Last [nggallery id=gplb2013indy]

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