Race Weekend Central

Inside The IndyCar Series: Long Beach Race Recap

In A Nutshell: Takuma Sato finally broke through and earned his maiden IndyCar win. Sato ran up front for much of the day and only was truly challenged by Graham Rahal towards the race’s conclusion, marking the first triumph for the Japanese driver for AJ Foyt Racing. Sato cruised to the line over Rahal, with Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti, and JR Hildebrand rounding out the top 5.

It was the perfect “family” scrapbook photo moment for AJ Foyt Racing, as Takuma Sato’s Long Beach triumph Sunday ended a victory drought that had lasted for over a decade.

Key Moment: Late in the race, Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal had checked out on the field and appeared primed to duel to the finish. However, Rahal was short on fuel and was thus forced to save until the end. Sato capitalized on this shortcoming and drove away with ease down the stretch.

Highlight Reel: – Sato took advantage on Lap 30 when then-leader Will Power pitted under a caution flag. Sato inherited the top spot and never looked back, staying in first the rest of the way. – Midway through the race, James Hinchcliffe got a little too aggressive and clipped the tire wall, taking out teammate EJ Viso and others in the process. It set up what would be an overall tough day for Andretti Autosport: none of their cars landed inside the top six. – Tire barriers bit another top pilot late in the race, when Tony Kanaan stuffed it into the barrier with two laps to go, effectively ending the race and handing the win to Sato.

Notable Driver: It’s been a long time coming for Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver has had a rough go of things since making a much-heralded switch to IndyCar from F1 back in 2010. Known for his extremely aggressive and unpredictable on-track behavior, combined with an affable personality off the track, Sato has quickly become a “must-watch” talent. Sunday, he finally delivered on the promise he has displayed since his entrance in the series. The first driver from his native country to win in IndyCar, he also snapped a decade-old drought in the winner’s circle for legendary owner/driver AJ Foyt. Foyt, who last tasted victory with Airton Dare in July, 2002 hadn’t seen a driver win on a road/street course with the No. 14 since he did it himself, at Silverstone way back in October, 1978.

Don’t expect this win to be a one-hit wonder, though. Expect to see much more success out of Sato as he continues to adapt to American open-wheel racing. A recent near-miss in the Indy 500, where the driver crashed on the last lap gunning for the lead could turn into a much better result come May, 2013.

STALLKNECHT: Sato’s Slow But Steady Development

Key Storylines: – Andretti Autosport had a nightmarish day, with drivers Hinchcliffe, EJ Viso, and Ryan Hunter-Reay all being involved in race-ruining accidents. Even Marco Andretti, who rebounded to finish seventh, had a mishap early in the race which led to him needing a new front wing. They all will be looking to rebound in Sao Paulo. – With his win, Takuma Sato launched up to second in points. Not known for being a consistent driver, it will be interesting to see how he handles being a championship contender as the season pushes ahead. – AJ Allmendinger’s struggles in his return to IndyCar continued on Sunday, with a mechanical failure relegating him to a 24th-place finish. He has yet to flash the front-running status that he earned during his previous open-wheel stint, with CART. – Charlie Kimball once again appeared ready to challenge for a win before a mid-race mishap left him stuffed into the wall. His improvement this season, however, has been extremely evident with Chip Ganassi Racing, and one has to imagine that he’ll be in Victory Circle before season’s end.

Quotes and Tweets:

“Going into this, I knew that this would be about the best we would finish,” – Marco Andretti on his seventh-place result (and perhaps lack of confidence in his abilities at Long Beach?) “I wish he was here. We hate it, because he is definitely our big leader and he is the big boss man.” – Larry Foyt on his father AJ’s absence from the race weekend. Foyt is at home, in Texas preparing for surgery to relieve sciatica this week
“It was just a perfect weekend, to be honest.” – Takuma Sato on his maiden victory in IndyCar
“@racrboi90: heymartysnider how did you feel about today's IndyCar race?” Great race. Lots of action. Different top 10, that’s good!NBC Sports’ Marty Snider on the quality of the race

What’s Next: Another two-week break is in order for the IZOD IndyCar Series. When they return, they’ll be leaving the country, heading down to Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 5th for the Sao Paulo Indy 300, the final tune-up race before Indianapolis. Coverage for the event will kick off on the NBC Sports Network, at 11 AM ET on May 5th. Radio coverage will be provided by Sirius XM Channel 211.

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