Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sato wins first race for Japan

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LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race on Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The win came in Sato's 52nd career start, and was the first for A.J. Foyt Racing since Airton Dare won Kansas in 2002. Only the Texan wasn't on hand to make his first-ever trip to Long Beach's Victory Lane -- a sciatic nerve that will require surgery forced him to watch the race on television at home.

The victory on the temporary street course through Long Beach -- where Foyt never won as a driver or team owner -- was a huge accomplishment for the organization. A.J. Foyt Racing's last win on a street or road course was with Foyt behind the wheel at Silverstone in 1978.

"It was an easy win," said the diminutive Sato, who leapt into the arms of his crew members in Victory Lane. He said one of his first post-race duties was to call Foyt.

"I hate it Dad is not here, he's at home, he has to have surgery," team manager Larry Foyt said. "But I don't think I've ever seen a perfect drive, and (Sato) drove a perfect race."

The win pushed Sato to second in the IndyCar standings, and was redemption for the Honda driver. Probably best known for crashing on the final lap of last year's Indianapolis 500 while driving for Bobby Rahal, Sato also suffered disappointment two races earlier when he was headed to a podium finish at Long Beach and Ryan Hunter-Reay spun him on the final lap.

On Sunday, he held off Graham Rahal, who took his seat at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for the win. Although the second-place finish was a huge turnaround for Rahal, who did not fare well in his first two races driving for his father's team, it was a typical Rahal result. Bobby Rahal finished second as a driver at Long Beach four times, in 1988, and from 1991 through 1993.

Justin Wilson, who started 24th because he never got a qualifying run in on Saturday, drove all the way to third and pole-sitter Dario Franchitti was fourth in his 250th career start. It marked a sweep of the top four spots for Honda, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season and had been shut out by Chevrolet in the first two races of the year.

In fact, Honda was locked out of the podium at St. Pete and had just one spot -- Scott Dixon's second-place finish at Barber -- as Chevy drivers from Andretti Autosport won the first two races.

JR Hildebrand was the highest finishing Chevrolet driver in fourth.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2013 C12

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