21 April 2013
IndyCar Long Beach 2013: Sato makes history with maiden win
Former F1 driver Takuma Sato scored his first race win and became the first Japanese winner in the IZOD IndyCar Series on Sunday after dominating the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It seems a very long time ago that Takuma Sato was at work in the F1 Grand Prix paddock, racing for the likes of Jordan, BAR and Super Aguri between 2002 and 2008. When that chapter of his life closed he headed over the Atlantic to try his hand at racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
At first he made the same sort of physical impact on races as he all-too-often had in F1; but gradually his raw speed and aggressive driving style started to click with the US open wheel style of competition, and on a number of occasions he's come close to pulling off a maiden victory. But on none of those occasions did he display the sure-footed, confident sense of complete domination that he showed on Sunday throughout 80-laps of the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course street course in Long Beach, California and which assured him a lasting place in the annals of motorsport.
The race got underway cleanly with Ryan Hunter-Reay dropping behind pole man Dario Franchitti through turn 1, while Takuma Sato - fastest in the Sunday warm-up - immediately moved past Will Power into third place. There was a minor scuffle between Power and Mike Conway over fourth place through turn 2, and then a more emphatic contact between back row starters Scott Dixon and Tristan Vautier which left Dixon spun around with a rear puncture and Vautier with a drive-thru penalty to serve.
"I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott," explained Vautier. "I'm sorry about that to him and his crew. I got pretty familiar with pit lane after serving my drive thru penalty for the incident, but we got back out on the track and my pace was amazing."
But there was no actual caution, at least not until Sebastian Saavedra made a rash overtaking move on Simona de Silvestro that left him too fast into turn 10: he clipped the tyres and ended up with the #6 Dragon car pancaked against the wall, forcing the first full course yellow to make its presence known.
"It was a wild start," admitted Saavedra. "Battling with Simona there, I think she had some front damage, so I was taking advantage of it. Went into the corner and lost the control from the back and tried to catch it, and when I caught it I just went straight into the wall, one of those things.
"It's just an unfortunate situation," he added. "We've been strong throughout the weekend, we just needed a good finish and to try to bring the car home. It didn't happen. It feels very bad to be honest, we shouldn't have been in this situation. We'll keep working for the next."
There were few takers for early pit stops, although Marco Andretti needed a new front wing after early minor contact and Justin Wilson was among a number of cars lower down the order that opted to pit for an early switch to red wall sort option tyres.
The race eventually got underway again on lap 8, with Hunter-Reay looking to get the jump on Franchitti only to be out-braked by the Scot into turn 1 which meant that the Ganassi was back in charge again. Further back, Helio Castroneves got caught out by the compression of the pack through the fountain complex and had his front wing broken for his pains, and he came in on lap 12 for a replacement.
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