Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race on Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Calif.
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 Sato, who leapt into the arms of his crew members in Victory Lane. “The team did a tremendous job. Pit stops, right calls, the power was great and I was comfortable in the car and able to push everything.”
From Texas, Foyt said via telephone the “last five laps were the longest five laps of anything.
Foyt’s son, Larry Foyt, runs the day-to-day operations of the team and said he hated his dad not being at the track for the win.
“We hate it because he is definitely our big leader and he is the big boss man,” Larry Foyt said. “This is for him.”
Foyt is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday in Texas, but said he’s pushing to have Tuesday because he wants to shorten his recovery period.
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.
Bahrain Grand Prix
Three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, easily beating Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in a race that has been the target of rights groups and anti-government protesters in the divided nation.
After taking the lead for good on the 17th lap, the Red Bull driver was never challenged. Raikkonen closed the gap in the final five laps but ran out of time. Grosjean passed Force India’s Paul di Resta for third for his best finish this season.
Vettel retains the championship lead after four of 19 races, with his advantage over Raikkonen now 10 points.
The race has been the target of rights groups that contend it glosses over the country’s political problems while anti-government protesters intensified their demonstrations against the Sunni-led government.