Takuma Sato made IZOD IndyCar Series history Sunday at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, leading a 1-2-3-4 sweep of the top finishing positions by Honda drivers and becoming the first Japanese driver in history to win in IndyCar competition. The victory capped an incredible weekend of racing for Honda Racing and Honda Performance Development, as the manufacturer also claimed the LMP1 and overall victory in Saturday’s American Le Mans Series race, and also won the LMP2 category in the same event.
Starting fourth, Sato ran in the lead group for the first third of the race, passing Will Power for third on the opening lap, and defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay for second on Lap 7. Sato then emerged in the lead on Lap 31 after a superior pit stop by his A.J. Foyt Racing crew.
From there, Sato and his crew continued to run a perfect race, maintaining and at times extending the gap from his pursuers, many of them also Honda-powered as at the halfway point in today’s 80-lap race the top six competitors were all Honda drivers. At the checkers, Sato crossed the finish line 5.36 seconds ahead of Graham Rahal, with Justin Wilson third and Dario Franchitti rounding out the top four for Honda.
Behind Sato, Rahal completed his strongest performance of the young season as he matched the leader’s pace throughout the second half of the 80-lap contest to finish second, his best result since finishing second at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012. Meanwhile, Wilson stormed through the field after failing to post a qualifying time, passing Dario Franchitti for third on a Lap 59 restart for his best result since winning at Texas last year.
The IZOD IndyCar Series now heads to South America for its first international race of 2013, the May 5 Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Takuma Sato (#14 A.J. Foyt Racing Honda) started 4th, finished 1st, his first IndyCar victory, first IndyCar win for a Japanese driver, first IndyCar victory for A.J Foyt Racing since 2002; first Honda IndyCar win of 2013, first win for A.J. Foyt Racing with Honda power: “I can’t find the words....just fantastic, an incredible feeling. The team did a tremendous job. The pit stops were perfect, I just had to put my head down and do my job, then everything came together and it was an easy win. Obviously, I’ve been though a couple of unlucky times these past three years, I’m just grateful to all our sponsors for staying with us, and the A.J. and Larry [Foyt] for giving me this opportunity.”
Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Dallara) started 11th, finished 2nd: \"I think we just performed the way we ought to, each and every weekend. We were in the top five almost every session, which is what I thought we were capable of coming into Long Beach. What a day for Honda! They responded in a big way at what is in many ways their home race. I’m really happy for them. They’ve done a phenomenal job. We as drivers have pushed them extremely hard, and their response has been incredible. At times, it would have been easy for them to get down on themselves. But I have never seen that. In the here and now, Honda is doing a terrific job. Congratulations to them.”
Justin Wilson (#19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda Dallara) started 24th, finished 3rd: “The team did a great job with the strategy. We went out and pushed hard the entire race. I think it helped for us to have an extra set of ‘reds’ [softer, option tires] as we weren’t able to use them in qualifying. That gave us a bit of an edge. The determination to come back strong is what Honda has always been about. They give us all the same opportunity and chance to win. That’s what I’ve noticed about them since I started watching Honda race years ago. They absolutely never give up until they have won.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: \"A great day and a great weekend for the entire Honda Racing program. Congratulations to Takuma, A.J., Larry and the ABC A.J. Foyt Racing team on the first of hopefully many race wins with Honda. They ran an absolutely flawless race. Everything from the race strategy to pit stops to Takuma’s job behind the wheel was perfect today. Graham Rahal also deserves mention for an outstanding job, and Justin Wilson for driving from the back of the grid to finish on the podium today. The 1-2-3-4 result for Honda is the perfect cap to an outstanding weekend, including our overall LMP1 win and LMP2 class victory in yesterday’s American Le Mans Series race. This is a great lead-in to tomorrow, which is a special day for HPD, as we mark our 20th anniversary as Honda’s racing arm in the USA. All of our IndyCar and several other Honda Racing drivers will help us celebrate what will be a very special event tomorrow.”