Race Report: Long Beach Grand Prix

LONG BEACH, Calif. April 21, 2013—VICTORY! Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply team sent a resounding message with their dominant performance in the 39th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this afternoon.

“This was one of the greatest days of my racing career,” Sato said.

Their triumph came as a surprise to nearly everyone – everyone except Sato and the historic race team that is directed by A.J.’s son Larry Foyt.

“Today was a fantastic day for us!” Sato said. “The team did a tremendous job this whole weekend. The car was great to drive—it was so much fun to drive! We managed both types of tires, the blacks and the reds, 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 became the first Japanese driver to win an IZOD IndyCar Series race and in so doing, he ended a winless streak for AJ Foyt Racing that stretched back to 2002 when Brazilian Airton Dare narrowly edged out Sam Hornish Jr. at Kansas Speedway.

There was nothing close about this finish because Sato had built a four-second lead over runner-up Graham Rahal when the race was slowed on the final lap because of contact between Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.

“Takuma made it look too easy but it made me so nervous watching that race today,” said Larry Foyt. “He just drove a flawless race. I’ve never seen a guy drive a race like that, a perfect race. The car was great, the engineers [chief engineer Don Halliday and performance engineer Raul Prados] did a great set-up and what a pit crew, those ABC 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.”

From the start of the 80-lap race around the streets of Long Beach, Sato, who started fourth, served notice that he was a contender as he beat defending race winner and row-mate Will Power to the first turn. Slipping into third, Sato set his sights on the Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. As Hunter-Reay’s tires began to wear, Sato closed in and passed Hunter-Reay to take second on lap 23.

On lap 28, Sato pitted for fuel and tires with the ABC Supply team slapping on the softer alternate [red] tires in eight seconds flat. As the stops cycled out, a full course caution came out on lap 30 for an accident between Charlie Kimball and Alex Tagliani. Sato assumed the lead on lap 31 when Power pitted.

Sato never looked back.

And he never lost the lead in large part due to the quick work of his pit crew. On lap 51, the ABC crew serviced the car in just 6.9 seconds during a full course yellow for Hunter-Reay’s single car incident.

Twenty-nine laps later Sato was sailing under the checkered flag and bringing Honda its first victory of the season. “Honda has been a great supporter of the Series and a strong partner for AJ Foyt Racing,” Sato said. “I am honored to bring them their first win of the year--and it was cool to be part of an all Honda podium!”

Sato’s victory, plus leading the most laps (50) gave him enough points to vault from 12th to second in the IZOD IndyCar point standings; he is just six markers behind leader Helio Castroneves. Sato was quick to extol the virtues of his team.

“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 [Rahal] 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 today.

“I want to say a big thanks to everyone who supported us--of course, 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.”

A.J. Foyt, who was not at the race because of a back ailment (he is scheduled to have surgery to repair it this week) was watching the race from his home in Houston.

“I’m just so happy because they did a great job and Takuma drove a helluva race,” Foyt said. “Larry did a great job, and Don 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 and I know what that’s like and 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,” he added.