Takuma Sato won the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach—a hard-earned victory and the first of his career.
Not only was it Sato's first IndyCar victory, but it was also the first win by a Japanese driver, per the AP's Jenna Fryer:
Sato 1st Japanese driver to win #IndyCar race; 1st win for AJ Foyt Racing since 2002.— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) April 21, 2013
A loaded field took to the track on Sunday, including warm-up leader Sato, last year's winner Will Power and legendary driver and pole-sitter Dario Franchitti, who hit a huge milestone as this was his his 250th career race.
The track at Long Beach is a 1.97-mile circuit. There isn't a lot of room to pass on most turns and most of the movement is generated from Turns 1 and 9. Turn 11 is the signature turn—a breathtaking and dangerous hairpin (and the tightest turn in professional racing) that requires extreme precision.
The competitors were in fine spirits before the race, and they put on a spectacular show for their fans in sunny California.
Here's a peek at A.J. Allmendinger and James Jakes lining up on the starting grid before the race, via IZOD IndyCar Series on Twitter:
The action was heated from the outset.
Scott Dixon ended up with a flat right rear tire on Lap 1 when he was bumped from behind by Tristan Vautier, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
Then in Lap 3, Sebastian Saavedra spun out on Turn 9, slamming into the tire barrier and causing the first full course caution of the race, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Franchitti were neck and neck throughout the early goings, with Sato, Power and James Hinchcliffe hot on their tails.
Franchitti began pulling ahead around Lap 10, running over one second ahead of Hunter-Reay.
By the start of Lap 18, Franchitti had stretched his lead to over two seconds ahead of Hunter-Reay.
Behind Franchitti, Sato overtook Hunter-Reay in Lap 23 with a pretty pass inside, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
After Sato passed Hunter-Reay, he set his sights on Franchitti. It only took him a few laps to close the gap, as Franchitti was just over one second ahead of Sato on Lap 27 before he took a pit stop.
Charlie Kimball and Alex Tagliani were battling one another before Turn 8 and both hit the tire barrier, forcing the second full course caution, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
Soto held on to first place at this point, as Franchitti ran into some trouble in his pit stop. Right behind Soto was Power, followed by Franchitti.
Right at the restart, Hinchcliffe and teammate E.J. Viso collided, forcing another full course caution before one lap had elapsed, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
At the midway point of the race, Sato began to improve his lead over Franchitti, Graham Rahal and Power, leading by a nice margin.
Surprisingly, Vautier, who began the race in last place and who was involved in a minor bit of contact early in the race with Dixon, worked his way into third place in Lap 47, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
With 30 laps remaining, Hunter-Reay ended up crashing into the tire barrier in Turn 8, forcing another full course caution, per IZOD IndyCar Series:
The wreck knocked Hunter-Reay out of the race, with Sato maintaining his lead in front of Rahal and Franchitti.
With 15 laps remaining in the race, Sato was still ahead, with Rahal chasing, but Justin Wilson made a surprising appearance in third place, considering he didn't even log a qualifying lap, per the AP's Jenna Fryer:
Justin Wilson never even made a qualifying lap and is up to third. #IndyCar— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) April 21, 2013
With the home stretch fast approaching, Sato continued to stretch his lead throughout the final laps. He had full command of the race and finished in style.
Here are your leaders, courtesy of IndyCar.com:
|Finish||Racer||Type of Car||Seconds Behind Leader|
|9||Simona Del Silvestro||Chevrolet||-33.1224|
ESPN The Magazine contributor Lewis Franck observed a thought-provoking curiosity that some of you may have wondered about during the race:
Anyone notice that there is a Corvette pace car at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach? #IndyCar— Lewis Franck (@LewisFranck) April 21, 2013
With all the accidents and pit stops due to damaged front ends, racing fan Melissa Jenks offered this humorous take:
More nose jobs at the #IndyCar Long Beach race than at a plastic surgery clinic?— Melissa Jenks (@JinxTheRocket) April 21, 2013
Hunter-Reay discussed his early departure with reporters, via Peter Leung:
Sato supporter Armando Sanchez III celebrated the racer's final laps:
Racing fan Matt Gorman appreciated Sato's hard-earned, long-deserved win:
Sato managed his car to perfection and put in a gorgeous race for the victory.
The No. 11-ranked racer on the IndyCar Series before this prestigious race, Sato's stock is clearly on the rise.
Will Sato win another race in 2013?
The action ran hot and heavy from the first lap until the checkered flag, with every contestant giving the race its due respect.
For Sato, expectations will run high from here going forward. He's proven he can beat the world's best drivers on one of the world's biggest stages, and he'll be one of the racers to watch one month from now at the Indianapolis 500.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78