It took 80 laps of frantic racing at Long Beach to declare a winner, but Takuma Sato broke through to lead a Honda 1-2-3 with Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson far behind in his rearview mirrors.
The A.J. Foyt Racing driver came home 5.36 seconds ahead of an impressive Graham Rahal, who turned his nightmare season around with a determined run on Sunday.
And if his winning drive wasn’t enough, Sato also ended a dry spell for the Foyt team that lasted 3941 days since its last IndyCar Series victory. Sato, whose last win came at the Macau Grand Prix F3 race in 2001, had gone a whopping 4161 days since his last victory, and also rewarded loyal team sponsor ABC Supply with their first win in IndyCar competition.
“I can’t find the words,” said Sato, who won on his 52nd IndyCar start. “The boys did a tremendous job. The pit stops were perfect. It’s a tremendous feeling. Obviously I’ve been through a couple unlucky times the past three years; thank you to all our sponsors and the team. It was an easy win. Everything came together. This is awesome.”
For the ex-Formula One driver, Long Beach was a glimpse into what was expected of the 36-year-old native of Japan upon his arrival in the series.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team won the GT class in Saturday’s American Le Mans Series sports car race and came close to adding a second win in the span of 24 hours, but even with yet another second-place finish for the Rahal family at Long Beach, it served as a marked improvement over the team’s first two IndyCar races of 2013.
“I think we just performed the way we ought to,” said Rahal. “The car was right there. I felt going into the race that’s exactly what we could do here. God…so close to winning again. It felt so good to be on the podium, but the only problem is this is the sixth time a Rahal has finished second here.”
Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson improved an amazing 21 positions on Sunday, hauling the No. 19 car from 24th to third and credited a strong group effort for the result.
“It’s a little bit of luck, circumstances and the team did a great job on strategy,” said Wilson. “We just went out there and pushed hard all race long. It’s also great for Honda to get a 1-2-3-4.”
Dario Franchitti started from pole and led with ease through Lap 30, but surrendered the position in the pits under caution.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said the Scot. “We dropped the wagon with only three tires on it… We had a good car–a car that would win, but track position means everything and we lost those positions in the pits. It’s a good result for the Target team after those [early season] DNFs.”
Behind Franchitti, JR Hildebrand earned a much needed fifth-place finish for Panther Racing in his home state. It matched his best road or street course finish since 2012 when he also took fifth at Long Beach.
“We did need a result today,” said the top Chevy-powered driver. “We picked up a lot of spots in the pits. We also picked up spots on new Firestone Reds and with all the mayhem today.”
OUTSIDE THE TOP 5
Oriol Servia followed his Panther teammate home in sixth, adding to the progress made by the combined effort of Panther and DRR so far.
“I had the best car probably of the whole season in the race,” he said. “It was awesome.”
Marco Andretti overcame a stop to replace a damaged nose to take seventh after making the long haul from starting 25th. On a day where numerous drivers fought their way to the front, Andretti’s performance was definitely noteworthy.
“Going into this, I knew that this would be about the best we would finish,” he said. “I am definitely pleased with how we climbed our way through the field and how we stayed consistent throughout the day. We knew that if we just stayed in the race and didn’t make any mistakes, we would be good. I had some front wing damage and a lot of understeer the whole race.”
Simona de Silvestro (P19 to P9) and Scott Dixon (P26 to P11) also made the trek from deep in the pack to respectable finishing positions.
ONE TO FORGET
If you drove for Team Penske or Andretti Autosport (except for Marco), Long Beach was a day to forget.
Andretti’s 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay? Crashed. Andretti’s St. Pete winner James Hinchcliffe? Crashed. Andretti’s E.J. Viso? Taken out by Hinch’s crash.
Team Penske’s Will Power? Fell back and was hit in the pits by Tristan Vautier, dropping to 16th at the finish. Penske’s Helio Castroneves? Wing damage and 10th. AJ Allmendinger? Wing damage, broken gearbox and P23.
Vautier overcame a drive-through penalty to motor to third–all the way from 27th after making an engine change–but lost most of those spots after his team sent him from his pit box without looking and seeing Power turning into his pit stall. A second drive-through blighted the French rookie’s final result (P17), but did not diminish how impressive his last-to-third drive was on Sunday.
Pos, Driver, Gap
1 Takuma Sato
2 Graham Rahal 5.3612
3 Justin Wilson 8.2386
4 Dario Franchitti 12.3573
5 JR Hildebrand 28.2402
6 Oriol Servia 29.4683
7 Marco Andretti 30.2703
8 Simon Pagenaud 31.8674
9 Simona de Silvestro 33.1224
10 Helio Castroneves 33.4118
11 Scott Dixon 33.6278
12 16 James Jakes 35.0645
13 Josef Newgarden 35.8945
14 Ana Beatriz 36.3442
15 Sebastien Bourdais 36.5936
16 Will Power 43.0022
17 55 Tristan Vautier 51.7961
18 Ed Carpenter 56.4533
19 Alex Tagliani 1 LAPS
20 Tony Kanaan 2 LAPS
21 Charlie Kimball 2 LAPS
22 EJ Viso 27 LAPS
23 AJ Allmendinger 29 LAPS
24 1 Ryan Hunter-Reay 31 LAPS
25 17 Mike Conway 42 LAPS
26 James Hinchcliffe 46 LAPS
27 Sebastian Saavedra 79 LAPS
Winners average speed: 85.763
Time of Race: 01:50:08.7155
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 5 for 16 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers
Franchitti 1 – 6
Franchitti 8 – 28
Power 29 – 30
Sato 31 – 80
Point Standings: Castroneves 99, Sato 93, Dixon 89, Andretti 87, Wilson 81, Hunter-Reay 73, Rahal 66, Power 62, de Silvestro 62, Hinchcliffe 61.IndyCar