Practice Report:   Long Beach Grand Prix

LONG BEACH, Calif. April 11, 2014—Defending race winner Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team made good progress today as practice got underway for the 40th Anniversary Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Sato had been 12th on the timesheet in the morning session but when the afternoon session concluded, he had moved up to fourth quickest in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda. His afternoon lap time of 1 minute, 9.1488 seconds was eight tenths quicker than his morning run around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course.

“It’s good to be back in Long Beach and to have flashbacks of the good memories from last year,” said Sato. “We’re working on the car’s setup because technically it’s a little bit different from last year. We have to adapt to the 2014 Firestone tires, new configuration for the aero, and different characteristics for the engine, etc. Practice one and two were okay--there were no surprises. We have some work to do to catch the people in the front, but we are on pace.”

He doesn’t have many to catch as only Simon Pagenaud, who was quickest with a time of 1 minute, 9.1488 seconds, four-time Long Beach winner Sebastian Bourdais and rookie Jack Hawksworth were faster. Will Power rounded out the top five.

A.J. Foyt, who missed last year’s victory with his team due to impending surgery for a back ailment, is at Long Beach this weekend.

Teams will have one more 45-minute practice tomorrow morning before qualifying begins just after 1 p.m. as 23 drivers vie for the Verizon P1 pole position.

The race will be broadcast live by NBC Sports Network Sunday afternoon starting at 4 p.m. ET.

Notes & Quotes: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Takuma Sato is in his fifth season driving Indy cars; it is his second year with the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team. Following are Takuma’s thoughts on:

o Standing starts: “I like standing starts in general. Most of my racing career I had done in that way until I arrived in the IndyCar Series, but I don’t mind the standing or rolling starts. It’s nice to show the fans and be a little different. We had only done standing starts twice in the last season and on both occasions it was pretty good, so I expect the Long Beach start will be spectacular.  On the technical side, the Honda engine configuration is different this year because it’s a twin turbo so we need to adapt for the new torque curve. We didn’t have much chance to practice at winter testing so we will see how we can catch up and improve our start performance in the practice sessions. Long Beach has done standing starts in its history so it should be fun.”

o Coming back to Long Beach as the defending winner: “It was a very special day for me, so going back there I feel good and confident. We should be able to show a strong performance again.”

o How the Long Beach victory changed him: “It changed my environment nicely a bit, but the important point is that as we did it, we became a very strong group as a team. I always believed that we could do the job but until you’ve actually done it, it would be only a hope, a dream and an objective. You believe it, and keep challenging, then it happens.”

o The key to running well at Long Beach: “Long Beach is a typical street course, mostly 90 degree corners. So the car needs to react well from heavy braking to sharp turn-in and quick exit. Also the track has one of the tightest and slowest hairpins in the series and so it requires very strong traction coming out corner.”

o How tough it would be to win back-to-back races: “It will always be tough to win this race-- everything has to be perfect -- but why not?  We will certainly try our best and aim to win.”