Takuma Sato races during Sunday’s Grand Prix of Long Beach. Sato crashed on Lap 83 and was done for the day. (Photos by TIM YUJI YAMAMOTO)

By TIM YUJI YAMAMOTO, Rafu Contributor

Last Sunday’s 47th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was Round 3 of the NTT Series Cup IndyCar Championship of 2022. Long Beach is America’s longest-running street course race, first held in the iconic downtown city back in 1975.

Josef Newgarden made back-to-back wins for a total of three wins for Team Penske. The previous was an incredible last-lap win at the XPEL375 Texas.

Two-time NTT Cup Series champion Newgarden won his first race here after 10 other winless attempts in Long Beach with the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, holding off Romain Grosjean in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda and reigning series champion Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Grosjean finished second, with Palou finishing in third.

Takuma Sato crashed into tire barrier in Turn 8 on Lap 83, bringing out a caution and the finish under yellow.

Pole winner and last year’s defending winner Colton Herta of Valencia started with an impressive lead and looked strong in his No. 26 Gainbridge Andretti Honda. Herta was eliminated from the race in a crash in Turn 9 while running third on Lap 56.

2021 IndyCar champion Palou placed third with a near-perfect drive, improving from his fourth-place finish from last year.

When asked about this year’s Indy 500 happening next month, Palou replied, “Long Beach is a special place for me. I think it’s one of our biggest  events in IndyCar after the Indy 500. Last year the IndyCar season ended at Long Beach as the race was pushed back to September 2021 because of COVID concerns. I can’t wait to get a good result.”

Sato delighted fans by taking some time to sign autographs.

Last year Palou finished in second place.

Palou spent two years in Japan, one in Japanese Formula 3 and one         in Super Formula and Super GT. He said that he has many good memories:

“I just had a lot of fun with the fans. We got a lot of fans following us. So many races, so many tests, I like the way that          people treat other people, welcome new people like me, and the Japanese people’s work ethic and how they take care of everything. Like the car, the details I really like.”

In the post-race interview with Japanese driver and 2013 Long Beach winner, Sato was asked about his day’s performance.

“We couldn’t get the balance and the speed over the weekend and during qualifying, but we raced and fought hard,” he said.

Sato started 22nd but was able to pass several cars in his No. 51 Nurtec ODT DCR Honda during the race up to ninth place at one point. Sato explained that he had contact with Simon Pagenaud, damaged the right side of the car and couldn’t improve his position after that.

Cars behind him had newer tires and it was hard keeping them behind him. Going into a narrow Turn 8 two wide, he got into the marbles and crashed with one lap to go.

Sato said he planned on using the black (primary) red (secondary), “but with our settings we couldn’t get a (performance) balance with the reds and went with the black tires at the end.” 

During the race, each car must use a set of primary and a set of secondary tires. Some other drivers mentioned that the track had better grip because of a sealer used on certain parts of the track.

This is Sato’s first season racing for Dayle Coyne Racing with RWR and I asked him how it is working for a small team. He said, “The resources the team has is one of the smallest down the paddock. It’s always challenging but I enjoy and I really feel such a warm welcome. Everyone listens to what I have in my experience and working really close together.”

Sato described DCR as a family-oriented team that has a lot of potential.

There is a Japanese saying, “If there is a second time, there will be a third time.” When asked about the upcoming Indy 500, he replied, “Of course we will seek a third win at Indy but it’s something we won’t know how it will turn out, and in two weeks there will be an open test at Indy and I look forward in driving the DCR car.”

The 45-year-old Tokyo native has the Indy 500 in 2017 and in 2020.

The next race is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Barber Motorsports Park, Sunday. May 1, 10:30 a.m. The 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, May 29, 1 p.m.

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