Takuma Sato scores first IndyCar win at Long Beach

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Ex-Formula One standout Takuma Sato has become a winner in the IZOD IndyCar Series, taking the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach by 5.36 seconds over Graham Rahal and becoming the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race.

The win also shatters a long drought for A.J. Foyt Racing, which hadn’t won in the series since Airton Dare won at Kansas Speedway in July of 2002. The team’s namesake, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, was not in attendance at Long Beach as he prepares for surgery next week, but that didn’t stop an exuberant celebration from breaking out amongst the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda crew.

Upon coming to Victory Lane, Sato himself leaped into the arms of a crewman and then waved the Japanese flag as the confetti flew all around him.

“I can’t find the words,” said Sato to NBC Sports Network. “The boys have done a tremendous job. The car was great, pit stops were perfect, great calls — just an incredible feeling…This is just amazing. I’m really happy with the team. Thank you to all our sponsors and A.J. for such a fantastic opportunity.”

“Those laps seemed to take forever, but I’m just so happy for this group,” said team director Larry Foyt. “We worked so hard. I hate that Dad’s not here…But this is his team and he’s helped us build it. Our sponsor has stuck with us for so many years, and I’m so glad it’s all come together.”

Rahal was unable to hang with Sato in the late stages of the race, but still managed to jump nine spots to claim the runner-up position — his best result since going P2 last season at Texas Motor Speedway.

“To be honest, it just feels phenomenal to get this result,” said the Ohio native. “It felt so good to be on the podium at Long Beach, so much history here. The only problem is I think this is the sixth time a Rahal’s finished second here, so we’re gonna have to break the curse eventually.”

The last spot on the podium went to Justin Wilson, who charged all the way from the 24th starting position to come away third and secure a 1-2-3 finish for Honda.

“A little bit of luck and circumstances, and the team did a great job with the strategy,” Wilson said. “We pitted on think, like [Lap 5 or 6], came in and put the reds on — we had plenty of reds, since we didn’t qualify! So we just went out there and pushed hard the entire race. I think that helped, having the extra set and being able to pick people off.”

Dario Franchitti converted his pole into a desperately needed fourth-place result for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, while Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand raced into the fifth position in the final laps to lead the Chevrolet camp.

F1 2017 driver review: Kimi Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 7
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: P2 (Monaco, Hungary)
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 205
Laps Led: 40
Championship Position: 4th

While this may have statistically been Kimi Raikkonen’s best campaign since his first year back in F1 in 2012, there is a good case for it being one of his most disappointing to date.

Raikkonen’s continued role at Ferrari has been questioned on a number of occasions, but the Finn looked capable of answering his critics heading into 2017 after impressing through pre-season testing as he appeared to get to grips well with the new-style cars.

But we soon grew accustomed to the same old story: flashes of potential, but otherwise an underwhelming, unsatisfactory campaign that saw Raikkonen be dwarfed by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s charge to his first pole position for over eight years in Monaco gave hope of a popular win, only for Ferrari to play its strategy in favor of title contender Vettel – why wouldn’t the team do so? – to leave him a disgruntled second.

While Vettel was able to impress at the majority of circuits, Raikkonen only looked strong at tracks that were unquestionably ‘Ferrari’ tracks, such as Hungary and Brazil. Like Vettel, Raikkonen should have racked up a good haul of points in Singapore, only for the start-line crash to sideline both Ferraris before they even reached Turn 1.

Again there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ in Malaysia had it not been for the spark plug issue on the grid, yet in Japan, Raikkonen was nowhere, finishing behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

Finishing just five points clear of Daniel Ricciardo despite having a much faster car for the best part of the season and the Red Bull driver’s own reliability issues sums up the disappointment of Raikkonen’s campaign.

He should have been an ally for Vettel in the title race by nicking points of Lewis Hamilton, much as Valtteri Bottas was doing for his Mercedes teammate. Instead, Raikkonen seemed to be tagging along for the best part of this season.

Season High: Pole in Monaco, his first since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Season Low: Finishing a distant P4 at Spa – a circuit he made his own in the 2000s.