Soto gives Foyt’s team a rare victory in IndyCar

LONG BEACH, Calif. — It was an unlikely pairing no one was certain would work when A.J. Foyt hired Takuma Sato to drive for him this year.

Foyt, the hot-tempered Texan with little patience for errors, had just hired a talented Japanese driver with a penchant of letting his aggression take him out of many races. Sato’s most spectacular gaffe came on the last lap of last year’s Indianapolis 500, when he wrecked while racing for the win.

Foyt made it clear early he wanted his new driver to bring a 10th-place car home in 10th, to never push past the limit and settle for what the car would give him.

On Sunday, the car gave both owner and driver a victory.

Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race, taking the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in just his third race with his new team.

The win came in Sato’s 52nd career start, but was the first for A.J. Foyt Racing since Airton Dare won Kansas in 2002. Even more impressive? It was the first on a road or street course since 1978 when Foyt was behind the wheel for a win at Silverstone.

“We’ve had a lot of drivers, but none of them wanted to win,” Foyt said, “this boy wants to win.”

The 78-year-old Foyt had to watch the race on television at home because of a sciatic nerve that needs surgery. He missed out on making his first-ever trip to Long Beach’s Victory Lane — Foyt never won on the street course as a driver or an owner — and said via telephone “the last five laps were the longest five laps of anything.”

Not so for Sato.

“I was really enjoying driving,” he smiled. “I didn’t want to finish the race because it felt so good.”

The diminutive Sato, who stands just 5-foot-4 and is listed at 117 pounds, leapt into the arms of his crew members in Victory Lane and spoke of how much his victory would mean in Japan.

Both Sato and team manager Larry Foyt, who runs the day-to-day operations of the race team, spoke to A.J. Foyt by telephone after the win and were disappointed he wasn’t present Sunday.

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