Sunday, 21 April 2013

Takuma Sato Cruises to Long Beach Victory

Takuma Sato scored his maiden IZOD IndyCar Series win in dominant fashion at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, describing the race as an 'easy win' . The race ended a five race winning streak for Chevrolet, which stretched back to GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma in August of last year, with Honda taking the top four positions. 

Dario Franchitti led from the pole with the winner of the last round, reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay on the attack early. The action wasn't restricted to the front though with the returning Mike Conway getting into Will Power. Further back, Scott Dixon was hit by Tristan Vautier, resulting in a puncture for the Kiwi. The first full course caution came only three laps into the race as Sebastian Saavedra obliterated the tyre barrier at turn nine. The Columbian had carried too much speed when attempting to pass Simona de Silvestro.

The caution lasted 'til lap eight and Franchitti lost out on the restart as Hunter-Reay pounced for the lead. Franchitti however snatched the lead back almost immediately.  Further back, Helio Castroneves damaged his front wing as a result of contact as the field bunched up. He stayed out with the damage and pitted on lap 13 to change both the nose and tyres.

As the rest of the field began to pit on lap 19, Franchitti held an ever increasing two second lead. Meanwhile, third placed Takuma Sato was hounding Hunter-Reay for second with Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Charlie Kimball close behind. Four laps later Sato used the Push-to-pass to get by Hunter-Reay as the American's 'red' tyres began to go off.

By lap 28, Sato had moved to second and closed the gap to race leader Franchitti from over three seconds to just 0.9 seconds. Hunter-Reay continued to fall back as Power took third from him. The reigning champion then pitted to change to new 'black tyres'. The race leaders also pitted, Sato had a quick 8.7 second stop whilst Franchitti hit trouble.

Charlie Kimball and Alex Tagliani had a close battle on lap 30 with contact at turn five. Both then ended up in the wall at turn seven as Kimball outbreaked himself, leaving Tagliani nowhere to go except into the side of the 83 car. Despite a resulting full course caution, both drivers managed to get going again albeit a lap down. Scott Dixon however was able to get back onto the lead lap during the caution.

The race resumed once more on lap 35 with more excitement as Mike Conway struggled to get going and Franchitti and Graham Rahal pounced on Will Power, relegating the Australian to fourth. An ambitious lunge from James Hinchcliffe resulted in contact with EJ Viso. Whilst Viso got going again, Hinchcliffe's race was over for the second event in succession. Simon Pagenaud was also caught up in the incident. The caution flag came out once more.

Graham Rahal moved up to second on the restart  Will Power fell down the order. Takuma Sato continued to lead and Tristan Vautier began to hunt down Franchitti for fourth.

At the halfway point, Will Power continued to drop back. Wilson passed Power for sixth going into turn one on lap 41, Oriol Servia then started to challenge Power. Meanwhile Pagenaud moved into the top five, passing Tony Kanaan on lap 42. Despite damage, Servia passed Power on lap 44. Two laps later Graham Rahal reduced a four second lead to 1.9 seconds as he chased Sato, setting his best lap in the process. Tristan Vautier followed a further 1.9 seconds behind in third after climbing 24 positions from the start.

On lap 51, Ryan Hunter-Reay mirrored Charlie Kimball's earlier incident, carrying too much speed into turn seven and plowing into the wall as he tried to make a move on Ana Beatriz. The incident resulted in yet another full course caution and the field took to the pits. Will Power's woes continued as he pitted when Tristan Vautier hit him from behind as he exited. Power's Penske team mate also hit problems, stopping on track during the caution period.

The race restarted again on lap 56, Takuma Sato and Charlie Kimball battling wheel to wheel into the first corner. Kimball couldn't make a move for the lead stick and he hit the wall. He was however able to keep going. Sato once again led the field.  Oriol Servia passed Simon Pagenaud for sixth, before Marco Andretti hit the Frenchman, the left rear damage slowed Pagenaud and Andretti capitalised, moving up to seventh.

Takuma Sato held onto the lead for the remaining 24 laps, taking his first IZOD IndyCar series win. The win was also the first for A.J Foyt's team since Airton DarĂ© triumphed at Kansas in 2002. With just two laps to go, Tony Kanann crashed out from fifth place after contact with Oriol Servia, ending the race under another full course caution. Rahal came home second with Justin Wilson third. Dario Franchitti and  JR Hilderbrand rounded out the top five

Sato joins a list of John Andretti, Paul Tracy, Juan Pablo Montoya and Mike Conway as a driver to take his first IndyCar win at Long Beach.

The next race is on May 5th on the Streets of Sao Paulo. Will power will again be looking for his first win of  2013 at a track where only he has ever won in three IZOD IndyCar races at the street circuit in Brazil's largest city

Pictures - Indy Car Media  

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