Race Report: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. April 13, 2014—The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach had all the makings of a Cinderella story for Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team.

A disappointing qualifying run, a collision on the opening lap which dropped Sato from 15th to 20th, and an early pit stop to replace the damaged nose assembly all combined to make his chances of success look slim. By lap seven of the 80-lap event, he was running last and a lap down to the top three leaders.

Sato and the ABC Supply team battled back. Good strategy and even better pit stops (their final one was a cool 7.45 seconds) and they were on their way to a top-10 finish in the ABC Supply Honda. But a lap and four turns later is when the glass slipper turned out not to fit.

After a round of green flag pit stops, pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had led 51 laps before the pit stop cycle began, came up on Josef Newgarden in Turn 3. Newgarden, who had moved into third on lap 32, ran there behind Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe until pitting on lap 55. Exiting the pits on cold tires ahead of Hunter-Reay, Newgarden and Hunter-Reay made contact entering  Turn 4 and Hinchcliffe piled in with no place to go. Although a couple cars sliced their way through, Sato was close on the heels of Carlos Munoz who barely missed the carnage. Sato nearly squeezed through but clipped Newgarden’s car and the impact tore off the left front suspension of the No. 14.

“Unfortunately, when I turned into Turn 4 there were three cars tangled together and it was in the middle of the racing line and the middle of the track. I couldn't avoid it. I clipped the 67 car and that was the end of our race. A very disappointing finish and we could have finished very high, but I hope we can transport the positives to the next round,” Sato said.

As it turned out, the glass slipper did fit Mike Conway, who took over the lead when Scott Dixon ducked into the pits for a splash of fuel with two laps to go. Conway held off Will Power to win for the second time at Long Beach—his first time coming in 2011.  Third through fifth were Munoz, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud.

“Obviously it was really a tough weekend for us but I want to thank the team for a good job and thank the fans, the promoters and the League for all their support, it made me feel really great,” Sato concluded.

The team is heading to Texas Motor Speedway this Wednesday for a one day test—their first on an oval with the new Honda twin turbo engine. The next race for the Verizon IndyCar Series is Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 27. It will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network.

Notes: A.J. Foyt saw old friend and 24 Hours of Le Mans co-winner Dan Gurney who celebrated his 83rd birthday today. Gurney was on hand to sign autographs and Foyt popped over to the arena and spent about 10 minutes with him catching up. Foyt also saw Sammy Tanner, aka “The Flying Flea” motorcycle flat track champion, Parnelli Jones, Al Unser Jr. and Aldo Andretti (Mario’s twin brother)  who stopped by the transporter to chat with him.