By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California – Fresh off his dominant victory at Barber Motorsports Park, Takuma Sato comes into Long Beach third in the NTT IndyCar Series championship standings, trailing points leader Josef Newgarden by 34 points.
Sato won the race from the pole last Sunday, leading 74 of 90 laps to score his fourth career Indy car win. He was congratulated by his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal, who started alongside Sato before his day ended early due to a mechanical failure, and his co-owners Bobby Rahal and David Letterman, which the letter had a victorious hug in victory circle.
Since joining the team last season, Sato said the team has built great momentum dating back to last fall when he won at the flat and demanding Portland International Raceway. Not only that, but he’s also worked close with Graham on making sure both RLL entries are competitive on a race-by-race bases like they were at Barber.
“Graham and I have been working closely together, trying to bring the team momentum,” Sato told Motorsports Tribune.” It’s very unfortunate for him to have the mechanical failure last weekend, but the good thing is that he was equally competitive. This weekend, hope that one or two of us maybe have a big smile at the end of the day.”
It was at Long Beach where he captured his first career victory, back when he was driving for AJ Foyt in 2013, and started the streak of different drivers and teams winning in succession as nobody has repeated since.
Sato said that while he has a victory at the 1.968 street circuit, it’s unknown if he can end the trend he started on the driver’s side, but extend the team side as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has never won at Long Beach.
However, Sato stated by winning at Barber, it has brought resounding motivation he’ll hope to carry onto Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where he finished 21st last year.
“We’re very motivated and excited to come to Long Beach after having such a positive weekend at Barber,” said Sato. “Everybody on the team is in a good mood and there’s no reason why we can’t be competitive again.”
Each of Sato’s four wins has come at unique circuits (Long Beach ’13, 2017 Indy 500, Portland ’18 and Barber ’19) that has distinctive characteristics. Aside of winning on a non-speedway oval, such as Gateway and Iowa, Sato said that winning at different tracks is a good element to have as a driver.
“It’s a great moment and a privilege to win at those variety of tracks. All I have left is a short oval,” said Sato. “Hopefully we can competitive all year long. That’s what matters for the season championship point of view. We’re not third in the championship, which is fantastic before going into the month of May.”
The 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner has always had mass support from his country of Japan. Even on the track as the Japanese media and photographers provide fresh content they can relay back to their country. The recognition has slowly grown in the states and people have began to realize that Sato is as recognizable than most of his countrymen athletes.
Perhaps more intriguing was the circumstances of the tragic 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tōhoku, where Sato saw his racing career meaning much more. His ultimate goal is bringing everyone together and provide positive moments through his ambitions and energy when he straps in his No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda during difficult times that still continues to this day.
“Without the huge support from my home country, I wouldn’t be standing here. I’ve really appreciated everyone’s support. They’ve gave me a great emotional feeling,” said Sato. “We had a huge earthquake in 2011 and they’re still in the process of recovery. I wanted to be a part of the process of the healing.
“If you can translate the energy from racing, especially for the kids, just to get the ambition and dreams. That will be me ultimate goal. I’ll keep racing as long as I could, and hopefully the fans really enjoy it.”