LONG BEACH, Calif. – Talk about times are changing.
A driver from Japan won an IZOD IndyCar Series race for the first time in history and did it in a car owned by American racing legend A.J. Foyt.
Takuma Sato of Tokyo won his first career win in either IndyCar or Formula One when he raced to an impressive victory in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Naturally, the driver from Tokyo won the race in a Honda as the car manufacturer with deep roots in Japan returned to prominence in the IndyCar in 2013. It was Honda’s first win this season and Honda-powered cars swept the top four starting positions.
There was a time when Foyt represented the grizzled American hero; a true-life Texas legend. Legend has it he once called drivers from outside of the United States “Damn Foreigners” although he claims he never said that. And this is not the first time a driver from outside the United States has driven Foyt’s cars to victory. Kenny Brack of Sweden won the 1998 IndyCar championship and the 1999 Indianapolis 500 for Foyt.
Brazil’s Airton Dare won the last race for Foyt at Kansas Speedway on July 7, 2002. Sato’s win came in his 52nd IndyCar start. His previous best was second at Edmonton last year. It was the 44th win for A.J. Foyt Racing and the first on a road course since Foyt won at Silverstone in 1978.
Sato’s previous best finish was second at Edmonton 2012.
Ironically, Foyt wasn’t in attendance. The first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 has suffered from a sciatic nerve issue in his back and is schedule to have surgery on Wednesday but hopes to move it up to Tuesday. He watched the race on television from his home in Waller, Texas.
“The last five laps were the longest of anything,” Foyt said. “We’ve had a lot of drivers but none of them wanted to win. This boy wants to win.”
How ironic that it took a driver from Japan to return the greatest name in American racing to victory lane in the IndyCar Series but that is what happened in a sometimes wild 80-lap race through the streets of Long Beach in front of a huge crowd that turned out for the 39th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Sato has come close to victory before and nearly won last year’s Indianapolis 500. He had race leader Dario Franchitti in his sights on the final lap when he dove low in the first turn to try to make the pass for the victory. But Sato’s brave move at Indy turned out badly as he lost control on the first turn apron, made slight contact with Franchitti and ended up in the first turn wall.
Sato has always been known for his blazing speed; it was just a matter of keeping it in control over the entire course of the race. He was able to do that Sunday by leading the final 50 laps of the race and defeating Graham Rahal of the United States by 5.3612 seconds.
Finally, a driver from Japan has driven to victory in an IndyCar race after more than two decades of participation from such drivers as Hiro Matsushita, Tora Takagi, Hideki Mutoh, Shinji Nakano, Hideshi Matsuura and Shigiaki Hattori – who also drove for Foyt. They are just a few of the names that competed in IndyCar but were unable to win a race.