Takuma Sato's victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach last Sunday was big news in his homeland. NHK, Japan's largest TV network, devoted a long segment early in its national news broadcast to the first Japanese winner of an Indy car race. He was the main story on Yahoo Japan and on the front page of all the major Tokyo newspapers – the first such occasion for IndyCar racing since Danica Patrick won at Twin Ring Motegi in 2008). "Likes" and Facebook comments on the main indycar.com story showed a ten-fold increase.
"We all did banzai (traditional Japanese exclamation meaning long life) when 'Taku' received (the) checker(ed) flag," relayed GAORA Sports TV director Keiichi Inamine, whose network broadcast the early-morning (in Japan) race. "We took photo with all members in our studio."
Following a visit April 22 to Honda Performance Development in Santa Clarita, Calif., by Honda team drivers, Sato returned to Tokyo for what was to be a brief vacation before the May 4-5 Sao Paulo Indy 300. Those plans certainly will be altered as Japan's most-famous race driver will be inundated with media requests. That he could bring some positive news to his countrymen still recovering from the earthquakes and tsunami of March 2011 and facing threats from North Korea and China is another reward.
"I think it's great news from sporting point of view for the Japanese all over the world," Sato said. "Any win is really great news for us, particularly that we had such a tragedy with the earthquakes. People are still on the way back; 300,000 people still don't have a home, have temporary living.
"This hopefully is good news to cheer them up and hopefully, yes, this is just a start, and to bring more IndyCar excitement and enthusiasm to Japanese fans to know it. Motor racing people already know IndyCar is special. Unfortunately, we don't have Indy in Japan, but hopefully this is a little start to recover and not so long time I'd love to go back to Japan with the series."
The victory was the first for AJ Foyt Racing since Airton Dare won at Kansas Speedway in 2002.
"I've been in Victory Lane a lot myself (67 times) and I know what that's like," said team owner A.J. Foyt, who watched the race on NBC Sports Network from home while awaiting surgery to relieve chronic back pain. "I am so glad to see them there. I'm sorry I couldn't be there with everybody but I'm glad it shows they can win without me. And now they're going to have to win with me, because I will be at Indy."