Sato first driver from Japan to win in IndyCar

Long Beach, CA (Sports Network) - Takuma Sato became the first Japanese-born driver to win an IndyCar Series race by taking Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Sato, in his first season as driver of the No. 14 car for A.J. Foyt Racing, overtook defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay for second on lap 23 and then grabbed the lead seven laps later when then leader Will Power made his pit stop. Sato dominated the remainder of the 80-lap race at this 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit. He held off Graham Rahal before a caution on the penultimate lap for an accident involving Tony Kanaan ended the race under caution.

Sato's maiden win in IndyCar came in his 52nd start. Prior to Long Beach, his best finish in the series was second, which came last July in Edmonton, Canada. He drove the No. 15 car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at the time. Graham Rahal is now behind the wheel of that car.

"This is just amazing," Sato said. "It was just a perfect weekend to be honest. 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."

Sato nearly pulled off the upset in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 when he battled Dario Franchitti for the lead and the win on the final lap. Both drivers made contact, with Sato slamming into the outside wall. He finished 17th, while Franchitti won the Indy 500 for the second time.

The Tokyo native competed in Formula One for seven years before he moved over to IndyCar in 2010. He is considered as one of the most popular Japanese race car drivers in the world.

"It is great news for the Japanese," Sato said of his IndyCar win. "Japan has had such a tough time after the earthquake (March 2011). I'm really happy to give everybody some good news to wake up to because it's very early Japanese time."

Sato gave A.J. Foyt's team its 44th overall win in open-wheel racing but its first since July 2002 at Kansas Speedway, with Airton Dare behind the wheel. The last road/street course win for the team came in October 1978 when Foyt scored the victory at Silverstone, England.

Foyt was not in Long Beach. He is scheduled to have surgery in his hometown of Houston later this week to relieve sciatic nerve pain.

"I wish (A.J.) was here," said team director and race strategist Larry Foyt. "We hate it because he is definitely our big leader, and he is the big boss man. This is for him."

Sato became the third different driver to win in as many races this season, joining James Hinchcliffe (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and Hunter-Reay (Birmingham, Ala.).

Rahal finished second, while Justin Wilson took the third spot. Wilson started 24th since he did not participate in qualifying on Saturday. Franchitti, the pole sitter, and J.R. Hildebrand rounded out the top-five.

"I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend," Rahal said. "It just feels phenomenal to get this result."

Oriol Servia placed sixth, followed by Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro and Helio Castroneves, the current points leader.

Hunter-Reay crashed late in the race and ended up finishing 24th, while Power, who won this race one year ago, placed 16th.

Castroneves now holds a six-point lead over Sato, who moved up to second in the standings with his win.

04/21 21:01:50 ET

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