Sato looks for a St. Pete encore and/or Long Beach repeat on Sunday

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Two years ago, Takuma Sato delivered one of the most popular victories in recent Verizon IndyCar Series history.

Sato broke through for his first career win on the streets of Long Beach in a dominant effort, and broke an 11-plus year winless drought for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in doing so.

Though he hasn’t won since, Sato and the rest of his No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda crew were the class of the Honda field on the series’ last street course in St. Petersburg.

After a down weekend in NOLA Motorsports Park last weekend, Sato expects the St. Pete form to return this weekend in Long Beach.

“I think we can carry it over,” Sato told MotorSportsTalk during Thursday’s media luncheon ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“We’re coming off a different circumstance … NOLA was a little different environment. The St. Petersburg performance could translate well here. It’s a street course, it’s a little similar, and hopefully we’ll be strong again.”

This race will mark the first street race since INDYCAR introduced manufacturer aero kit upgrades to improve structural rigidity, following the debris-strewn race at St. Petersburg.

Sato put a lot of that action down to the fact it was the first race of the year, more than specifically blaming the kits for the onslaught of debris cautions.

“We were out of racing for half a year,” Sato said. “If anything, the first race is always exciting. It wasn’t massive contact for anyone.

“It was just a matter of new racing again, with learning the aero kits, and with more carbon fiber parts. Naturally if you had contact, there was debris. Hopefully there won’t be as much here.”

With Mike Conway out of the field, Sato is again the most recent Long Beach winner actually in the field this weekend, as he was last year when he reminisced about it.

He said it remains one of his career’s most special memories and he’d love to repeat.

It’s a possibility, for sure, heading into Sunday. Much will depend on how well he and teammate Jack Hawksworth will roll off the transporters ahead of first practice on Friday.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.