Takuma Sato claimed his first IndyCar victory in a chaotic race around the streets of Long Beach. It was the first Indy car victory for AJ Foyt Racing since 2002, and its first on a road course since A.J. himself drove to victory at Silverstone in a USAC-sanctioned event in 1978.
Sato ran among the front-runners throughout the afternoon, and moved into the lead as the field cycled through its pit stops during a caution period on lap 31.
From there, both he and his team were flawless – Sato was quick when he needed to be, looked after his tires, enjoyed perfect service in the pits, and never appeared to have any problems managing the gap between himself and his pursuers.
He crossed the finish line under full-course yellows following a late crash between Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia, but just prior to the crash he had a 5.2sec lead over Graham Rahal, so the yellow made little difference.
"It was just a perfect weekend, to be honest," said Sato. "The team did a tremendous job. Pit stops, right calls, the power was great and I was comfortable in the car and able to push everything."
Among the other firsts, Sato's win was the first ever by a Japanese driver in IndyCar. He said that achievement meant a lot to him.
“It is great news for the Japanese. Japan has had such a tough time after the earthquake," Sato noted, referring to the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the island nation in 2011. "I'm really happy to give everybody some good news to wake up to – because it's very early Japanese time!"
Rahal had matched Sato's pace early in the final stint before backing off in the hope of saving enough fuel to attack Sato at the end, but Sato had enough in reserve himself to keep him at a distance. Nevertheless, it was a good result for Rahal following a disappointing start to the season.
"I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend," said Rahal. "The Midas/Big O Tires car was right there all week. To be honest, it just feels phenomenal to get this result."
Justin Wilson did a superb job to finish third after starting from the rear of the field, the Briton making good use of the extra set of red tires that he had available after not completing a lap in qualifying yesterday.
"It was a little bit of luck, circumstances and the team did a great job on strategy," related Wilson. "We pitted on lap 5 or 6, came in and put the reds on. We had plenty of reds because we didn't qualify. We just went out there and pushed hard the entire race. I think that helped having an extra set, being able to pick a few people off."
Polesitter Dario Franchitti was fourth, the Scot having lost time to a slow first pit stop. He was followed across the line by Servia, who'd been able to continue running after the clash that left Kanaan stuck against the barrier, but a post-race penalty for avoidable contact tumbled the Spaniard down the order and promoted JR Hildebrand to fifth place.
Elsewhere, there was chaos. Scott Dixon, who started from the back of the field, was spun around early on by Tristan Vautier, sending the Kiwi into the pits to have a puncture repaired and Vautier in for a penalty.Dixon fell a lap down, but later regained it and finished 10th.
Vautier, meanwhile, recovered to run as high as third late on before being issued yet another penalty, this time as the result of being released directly into the side of Will Power's car during a stop.
The resultant contact sent Power back into the pits on the next lap for minor repairs, compounding an already frustrating afternoon for the Penske driver, who had struggled badly on his primary tires during the middle phase of the race.
His team-mates fared little better, with Helio Castroneves falling out of contention early after damaging his front wing, and AJ Allmendinger retiring with an undisclosed mechanical problem.
Things were just as tough at Andretti, with James Hinchcliffe being squeezed into the wall and crashing out on an early restart – an incident that also damaged the car of teammate EJ Viso – and Ryan Hunter-Reay crashing while trying to pass Ana Beatriz.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Takuma Sato Foyt Dallara-Honda 80 laps
2. Graham Rahal Rahal Dallara-Honda + 5.3612s
3. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda + 8.2386s
4. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 12.3573s
5. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy + 28.2402s
6. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy + 29.4683s
7. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 30.2703s
8. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 31.8674s
9. Simona de Silvestro KV Dallara-Chevy + 33.1224s
10. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy + 33.4118s
11. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 33.6278s
12. James Jakes Rahal Dallara-Honda + 35.0645s
13. Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda + 35.8945s
14. Ana Beatriz Coyne Dallara-Honda + 36.3442s
15. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 36.5936s
16. Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy + 43.0022s
17. Tristan Vautier Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 51.7961s
18. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy + 56.4533s
19. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda + 1 laps
20. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy + 2 laps
21. Charlie Kimball Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 2 laps
22. EJ Viso Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 27 laps
AJ Allmendinger Penske Dallara-Chevy 51 laps
Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy 49 laps
Mike Conway Rahal Dallara-Honda 38 laps
James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy 34 laps
Sebastian Saavedra Dragon Dallara-Chevy 1 lap