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Sato Shines for Honda at Long Beach

  • Late-race charge nets fifth for Sato, Honda and A.J. Foyt Racing
  • Hinchcliffe rebounds from early-season disappointment to run eighth
  • Caution-free race leads to record event

A late-race charge from Takuma Sato netted Honda and the A.J. Foyt Racing veteran fifth place Sunday at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, as a caution-free race around the Southern California street circuit resulted in a record race pace and negatively affected the race strategies of several Honda teams.

The race would run caution-free for the first time since 1989 and only the fourth time in Long Beach history, resulting in a record race pace of just over 100 mph. It also was the first caution-free Indy car race anywhere since Mid-Ohio in 2013.

Starting eighth, Sato maintained position through the first two rounds of pit stops, saving both fuel and “push to pass” usage [a button on his dash that a driver is able to activate up to 10 times per race, to provide an additional 50 horsepower for a brief period]. After the final round of scheduled pit stops, Sato, the winner here in 2013, passed both Will Power and Tony Kanaan to move into fifth, and was battling Juan Pablo Montoya for fourth at the checkers.

Having a strong run after disappointing results in the first two races of 2016, James Hinchcliffe was the quickest Honda driver in qualifying on Saturday, and backed up that performance with an eighth-place finish today, his first top-10 result since sustaining serious leg injuries in a season-ending crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.

Other Honda movers included former Long Beach winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal, who both gained positions in the opening laps. However, Hunter-Reay made his second pit stop out of sequence on Lap 40 and dropped to 20th, en route to an 18th-place finish. Rahal, on the other hand, continued his march forward, running into the top ten for much of the race, but ultimately finishing 15th when he ran out of fuel on the final lap.

Video News Releases from this weekend’s Honda Racing and Acura Motorsports action at Long Beach can be found on the “Honda Racing/HPD Trackside” YouTube channel. Produced by the Carolinas Production Group, the video packages can be found in the 2016 HPD Trackside Video Playlist at: https://www.youtube.com/HondaRacingHPDTV.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads east, cross-country to scenic Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama, for next Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, with live television coverage again on the NBC Sports Network.

Takuma Sato (#14 A.J. Foyt Racing Honda) started 8th, finished 5th: “Without any caution flags all the way today, we had to save fuel. I kept thinking ‘Keep it cool and save fuel’. Even with the ‘push to pass’ [which briefly increases horsepower in passing situations], we had to be careful not to burn too much fuel. But what an amazing job this weekend from my A.J. Foyt Racing team. Coming from eighth to finish fifth, fighting with Tony [Kanaan] and Juan Pablo [Montoya] in the final laps made the race very enjoyable.”

Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) started 11th, finished 15th: “I think we just made some mistakes today overall and put ourselves in a bit of a bind. With our strategy, we really needed a yellow to make up some ground after starting 17th.  We coasted across the finish line with no fuel and barely made it. It kind of stunk for me today because I had a great car, I just couldn’t do anything.  As a series we need to look at the way that we generate the downforce on these cars. We need to get rid of so much top-side downforce, put the under wings back on. We all have the parts, so it’s a no-expense addition that will allow everybody to follow closer and make the racing better.”

Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “It was a strange race, the first caution-free day here since 1989. We believe our race pace is good, but at an event like Long Beach, where passing is at a premium and there are no yellows to shake up the order, qualifying becomes even more critical. So clearly, we have to find a way to improve our qualifying pace. Takuma [Sato] and James [Hinchcliffe] both drove great races, it’s great to see ‘Hinch’ back at the sharp end of the field once more.”