LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Amid the Victory Circle celebration for Takuma Sato, conspicuously absent and certainly missed was the team's inspirational leader, A.J. Foyt.
Foyt was watching the NBC Sports Network's broadcast of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from his Texas home as he faces midweek surgery to relieve back pain that makes it difficult to walk, so the all-time Indy car victory leader couldn't congratulate the first Japanese winner of an Indy car race in person.
The celebration, nonetheless, was hearty as A.J. Foyt Racing claimed its first victory since July 7, 2002, at Kansas Speedway with Airton Dare behind the wheel. The last win for the team on a road/street course was by Foyt on Oct. 1, 1978, at Silverstone. It was A.J. Foyt Racing's 44th victory.
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"I wish he was here. We hate it because he is definitely our big leader and he is the big boss man. This is for him," said team director and race strategist Larry Foyt, A.J.'s son.
"Takuma made it look too easy. It made me so nervous watching it out there. He just drove a flawless race. I've never seen a race like that. Just a perfect race. It just all came together. We have been saying that. We've had flashes of being really quick and we just had to bring it all together. The ABC car just looked awesome up front all day."
Sato, making his 52nd IZOD IndyCar Series start, overtook Ryan Hunter-Reay for second on Lap 23 and assumed the point on Lap 30 when race leader Will Power pitted under yellow. The remainder of the race Sato's No. 14 ABC Supply car was strong on both the Firestone primary and alternate tires.
"It was just a perfect weekend to be honest," said Sato, whose previous best finish was second at Edmonton in 2012. "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.
“It is great news for the Japanese. Japan has had such a tough time after the earthquake. I’m really happy to give everybody some good news to wake up to because it’s very early Japanese time."
Sato, who started fourth, led Graham Rahal across the finish line under caution as the No. 11 car driven by Tony Kanaan slid into the tire barrier in Turn 1 on Lap 78 of 80. It was the best finish for Rahal since finishing second at Texas last June. Justin Wilson, who won that race at Texas Motor Speedway, advanced from the 24th starting position to finish third.
"I think we just performed the way we ought to each and every weekend," said Rahal, whose father and team co-owner, Bobby Rahal, was a Long Beach race runner-up four times. "We came out here and the Midas/Big O Tires car was right there all week. To be honest, it just feels phenomenal to get this result."
Pole sitter Dario Franchitti finished fourth and JR Hildebrand finished fifth at Long Beach for the second consecutive year.
"I’m really proud of the run we had and the pit crew guys did such an awesome job, because we made up three or four of those spots in the pits on our last stop," said Hildebrand, who finished 19th and 17th in the first two races in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car.
Sato is the third winner in as many IZOD IndyCar Series races this season climbed to second in the championship standings. Helio Castroneves, who finished 10th, has a six-point lead heading into the May 5 race on the street circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Scott Dixon is third and Marco Andretti, who finished sixth, is fourth.
Honda-powered teams swept the podium for the first time this season.