For the first 10 seasons of his career, Takuma Sato went winless in professional open-wheel racing. His biggest claim to fame to that point was a failed attempt to take the lead from Dario Franchitti on the last lap of the 2012 Indy 500.
But that changed on April 21, 2013, as Sato won the Grand Prix of Long Beach to become the first Japanese winner in professional motorsports.
Sato started the 39th edition of the race from fourth and took the lead on Lap 31 for good. He led the final 50 laps and won by 5.3 seconds ahead of Graham Rahal.
Aside from being the first victory for Sato in IndyCar competition, it was the first victory for A.J. Racing in more than 10 years. Foyt’s last victory came at Kanas Speedway on July 7, 2002 with Airton Dare behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, Foyt was not in attendance that weekend as he was at his ranch in Texas preparing for a surgery on his sciatic nerve, but that did not stop the team from celebrating.
Upon entering Victory Lane, Sato himself waved the Japanese flag and leaped into the arms of a crewman as confetti flew all around him.
“I can’t find the words,” Sato told NBCSN. “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.”
Also on this date:
1985: Ayrton Senna won the Grand Prix of Portugal, his first victory in Formula One. Senna became one of the greatest drivers in F1 history, with 41 victories and three World Championships (1988, 1990-91). before a fatal crash during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
2007: Tony Kanaan took the lead with five laps remaining in the Indy Japan 300 and held off Dan Wheldon to claim his first of five victories that season.
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.