Ten years ago, Andretti Autosport rolled into Long Beach looking for a hat-trick. James Hinchcliffe had gotten the team’s 2013 campaign rolling with a win in the curtain-raiser at St Petersburg, and two weeks later, teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay had backed it up with victory at Barber.
The IndyCar field was entering its second year with the new DW12 chassis, and with so many of the car’s secrets still yet to be unlocked, there were opportunities for small teams to make a big impact. This would be borne out over the months ahead: five different teams found their way to Victory Circle before either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing got their first 2013 wins on the board (Helio Castroneves at Texas and Scott Dixon at Pocono, respectively) although Ganassi and Dixon steadied their ship enough to seal the championship with a fifth place at Fontana at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, at A.J. Foyt Racing’s headquarters in Texas, everyone’s primary mission at the start of the year was simply to get to know each other. Over the winter, the team had signed Takuma Sato, who’d just finished his third IndyCar season following a seven-year Formula 1 career, to replace future Le Mans winner Mike Conway; the Brit having decided to stand down from racing on ovals towards the end of 2012.
As the teams set up in the Long Beach paddock ahead of the race weekend, it’s reasonable to assume that Foyt’s team didn’t feature on many radars. Things had gotten off to decent start at St Pete, where Sato finished eighth on his debut in the No.14 Honda, but that result had given way a more anonymous afternoon in the midfield at Barber a fortnight later.
History wasn’t necessarily on the side of team nor driver, either. Sato’s most recent win of any kind had come 12 years earlier in the famed Formula 3 event at Macau. For Foyt, the wait had been almost as long: the team’s last champagne shower had come when Airton Dare found the top step of the podium at the 2002 IRL race at Kansas. Narrow the lens to the last time the team had won on a road or street course and you’re going all the way back to 1978, when A.J. himself was victorious at Silverstone.
It should come as little surprise then that what played out during that third weekend in April of 2013 still resonates a decade later with those who were part of it. Here’s the story of that race in their words.
Takuma Sato (now two-time Indy 500 winner; then driver of A.J. Foyt Racing’s No.14 Honda)
Larry Foyt (president, A.J. Foyt Enterprises)
Don Halliday (now president of Halliday Technologies; then chief engineer, A.J. Foyt Racing)
Raul Prados (now race engineer, Porsche Penske Motorsport; then data/performance engineer, A.J. Foyt Racing)
TAKUMA SATO: My first IndyCar race was in 2010 with KV, and in 2012 I joined Rahal. Then in 2013, Larry Foyt approached me… actually he’d approached me several years earlier and we’d talked, but then the opportunity came for us to get together at the beginning of 2013.
I knew who A.J. Foyt was, but I had never spoken to him. And it was the furthest team I could imagine (for a driver like me) – a Texan team, very American, and I was born in Japan and did all that racing in Europe. So we had completely different backgrounds and different philosophies. But when I met A.J. and Larry and everybody in Houston, I immediately felt like part of it. It was such a warm, family team.
The incongruity of a driver like Sato landing at a team like Foyt was as apparent to Sato as it was to everyone else, but he and the team had already started to build a strong bond by the time they unpacked at Sebring for their first test in February. Mike Levitt/Motorsport Images
LARRY FOYT: I think the first time we really got to spend time with Takuma was, we had a sponsor appearance – ABC Supply was our primary sponsor at the time and they were celebrating a milestone, and they had leased out an entire cruise ship in the Caribbean. So we were all on this ship, and that was really when I got to know Takuma. We were doing some appearances on this ship, and there was an IndyCar that they had craned onto the boat, and it was very cool.
Takuma and I really hit it off. We were similar in age and we became really good friends; I was on the radio with him… it was just a really good cast of characters at that time. There was Don Halliday, whom I love to this day – he was just perfect for what we had going on. We had some great young engineers like Raul Prados. It was a great feel in the team at that time. We were very small, but we felt like we could punch above our weight.
TAKUMA SATO: Don Halliday, my race engineer… I still call him ‘Dad’, and he calls me ‘Son’. Even to this day, we text each other. We still have this amazing relationship.
DON HALLIDAY: He calls me ‘Dad’ and I call him ‘Son’, because I’m pretty old now (laughs). But I have a very good connection with Takuma, and it really was like a father/son situation. I’ve always felt with any driver, particularly with the racing we do, as an engineer you have a special responsibility to keep them as safe as they can be. I said that to him right at the very beginning, and I think he saw that I had his back, so to speak. And he had the freedom then to do what he was good at doing.
RAUL PRADOS: 2013 was my second year in IndyCar. I moved from England to the U.S. in 2012 with Mike Conway. When Mike joined Foyt, that’s how I joined. Back in my early years I engineered for a team that he drove for, and they were looking to restructure the engineering group at Foyt and Mike recommended me from back in the day. And that’s how I got there.
I was doing data and performance engineering. Don was the one running the car and calling the whole operation, and I was the support engineer for him.
TAKUMA SATO: The first test with the team was at Sebring, and at that point the DW12 was only in its second year and everybody was trying to work it out. That was the time the inerter damper was introduced, as well. Penske and Ganassi had probably already been using it for a year or two. Andretti, too. But for us, it was a very new item.
So at the Sebring test, we found something we were really happy with, and I knew our car would be strong at street courses, because Sebring is bumpy and you basically go there for street course testing.
Information gained during the Sebring test laid the groundwork for Foyt’s strong street course speed during 2013. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
DON HALLIDAY: We had two engineers, Raul and myself, and Raul covered a lot of the bases, because I wasn’t qualified to cover a lot of the bases that he was covering with data acquisition and all that! I did think it had the potential for us to have a good year, because everyone was starting from around the same point.
LARRY FOYT: Don and Takuma worked together very well, Takuma was very into analyzing the data, and Don was perfect at taking Takuma’s comments and… I love this about Don; the great engineers, they can do this – they’re awesome on the technical side, but they’re also awesome on the mental side. And Don was such a good… you don’t want to call them a psychologist, but they kind of are! They get the best out of the driver mentally. That’s what was so great about Don. He was such an important part of our team on a lot of aspects. Even working with the mechanics… he’s such a great personality. He understands how difficult it is to win at his level, but he knows how to get the best out of everybody.
Don was great for Taku because they believed in each other, and that’s the first step, right? Taku had an idea of what he wanted, and Don knew what he wanted, and together they were really powerful.
RAUL PRADOS: We found something with the dampers, but I think they also changed the tires that year. Or, we believed they changed the tires – we were a small team, so we didn’t have a lot of good information!
But I remember talking to Takuma years after, because I became his race engineer in 2016, and we were talking about that event and he said that they tried a different rear geometry that really suited his driving characteristics and that tire. So that was one of the key things. We believed it was a new tire at the beginning of that season and we were among the first to find a good balance for that. As the season went on, the bigger teams were always going to catch up with us, and that’s exactly what happened.
The difficulty with Foyt at that time was that we were just one car, and when you’re a one-car team it’s always difficult to extract the maximum all the time. When you have two cars, one driver is going to be better in this corner, one of the drivers will be better over here, and the development of the car is going to be split. That was the biggest thing I found when I joined Penske; the amount of development you can do and how much the drivers push each other. That’s something we couldn’t have at the time with Foyt; we only had the one car until Jack [Hawksworth] came along.
Takuma is extremely good at finding what he’s feeling in the data. We just didn’t have anybody to compare his data with that year. He’s very technical. Honestly, he’s a mega driver. His driving style is very similar to how Will Power drives, now that I’ve seen both of them – the driver inputs, the braking technique… they’re very similar. So I’m not surprised that Taku is quick.
While St Petersburg had yielded a top 10 first time out for the new No.14 group, they’d left Florida feeling like they’d come up short: a problem with the drink bottle had delayed Sato in the pits and cost him several positions.
But the car’s street course pace was front of mind for Sato as he climbed into the car for opening practice at Long Beach, and his optimism seemed justified: Andretti Autosport led the opening two practice sessions, but Sato was third-fastest on Friday morning, and ninth-fastest in the afternoon. That carried through to qualifying, where Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing) beat Andretti’s Hunter-Reay to pole, while Sato lined up immediately behind them alongside Penske’s Will Power.
TAKUMA SATO: More important (than being high up the timing sheets) was the feeling in the car. Like, Turn 7, you have to ride the curb, and the car was just so nicely balanced. That’s why I was very satisfied after qualifying. I was fourth; Dario was on pole, Hunter-Reay was second and Will was third. So, it was the ‘wrong’ place for Foyt – not in a bad way; but you don’t expect Foyt to be that competitive.
DON HALLIDAY: There’s a lot of declarations in racing aren’t there, where people are going to do this, or going to do that. I see that in Formula 1 now: ‘We’re going to be strong in 2024.’ It’s way more complicated than that. It’s like a four-dimensional chess match, because when you think you’re making good, strong moves, all the other teams are moving around in reaction. I’m always the optimist, I’m always half-full, but I never went into a weekend thinking, ‘we’re going to have a really good weekend this weekend’, because I’ve always felt it will just come from hard work from the whole team.
TAKUMA SATO: After qualifying, which is just a game of pure speed, you had a warm-up session, and I specifically remember in the morning warm-up session that a lot of teams put wing on. That’s what you naturally do, because you have to save the tires and have very consistent stints [in the race]. The weather forecast was for a warm day, but while the sun was heating up the surfaces the actual air was still cold, and I knew the downforce would be available. So while a lot of teams were putting on a degree or two of wing for the warm-up, we were actually trimming.
I thought, ‘OK, this feels really good’. Of course, the car became a lot more lively in the back section of the track, but most of the lap time comes in a straight line because Long Beach has such a long straight. If I could maintain this consistency, with less wing but still the speed, I could overtake and be protected because I’d have a faster straightline speed. So that was a win/win.
DON HALLIDAY: The feeling I had with the car when we were working with the setup was, we were in a really good zone with the conditions changing, and the springing and damper stuff… we were sort of ahead of what was happening with the track. That doesn’t really happen very often.
If the Foyt team had sprung a surprise with the car’s pace during the opening sessions of the weekend, it had another one in store when the car rolled out on the harder-compound primary Firestones instead of the softer, red-sidewalled alternates preferred by most of the other cars starting towards the front.
Sato, alone among the frontrunners in opting to start on the harder compound tires, picks up an early position from Will Power at the start. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
TAKUMA SATO: We decided after the warm-up we’d go for the primary tire.
RAUL PRADOS: Which is strange. If you qualify up front, you’d usually protect yourself. In IndyCar, everybody around the top 10 usually starts on the reds. That would have been a decision between Takuma and Don.
TAKUMA SATO: Of course, a lot of drivers and teams in the top 10 naturally chose the option tire, because it’s usually the best way. I knew I’d have to live with the primary tires for the first five or six corners; that was the big challenge. But I knew the primary tire worked extremely well, and these inerter dampers would get much more energy to the tires and help them warm up quicker.
Most importantly though, the sun was so strong that the track surface was actually pretty warm, but the conditions were still maintaining colder air temperatures, so I knew we’d have the downforce. So I knew I had an opportunity. But of course, you never know for sure until the race starts.
Green flag. Sato passes Power for third before the first corner and settles in behind Hunter-Reay.
TAKUMA SATO: When the race started, Dario was gone, but I could see that Hunter-Reay was starting to struggle after 10, 15 laps – I could see he was sliding. I had really good traction out of the hairpin, so I overtook him, and I think at that time the gap between Dario and I was about three seconds. But the red tire was starting to go off and my primary tire was maintaining its speed, and I knew that on the next stint most of the other people would have to go to the prime, while I would be able to go to the option tire, which is a lot better for out laps, etc.
The gap between Franchitti and Sato ballooned to around 4.0s before Sato made his first stop on lap 29. Franchitti pitted a lap later but a delay during his stop eroded his advantage. By the time the first round of stops had been completed, Sato had cycled through into the lead. But Long Beach being Long Beach, a succession of cautions and restarts limited his ability to open a gap.
LARRY FOYT: The biggest stress for me was that we were doing those darn double-file restarts. It felt like we had that race under control all day, and I know on one of the last restarts… I think it was Charlie Kimball; he came up and doubled-up on the inside and really went for the jump. I think he crashed, but that was an ‘oh boy…’. But we got through it.
TAKUMA SATO: All I had to do was manage the situation – and of course, lots of other people on the restarts. But I was in control, and I was comfortable. In fact, towards the end of the race, Larry radioed to me, ‘Your pace is too quick! You have to save fuel by this much.’
So I started saving fuel. Still very comfortable. And then Graham [Rahal] started challenging and tried to break the gap to under 1.0s, which I tried not to allow him to do. So when he’d come, I’d push and stretch the gap back to 1.5s.
Outside of the restarts, Sato enjoyed a stress-free run all afternoon. The anxiety levels were a little higher on the pitwall, though… Perry Nelson/Motorsport Images
LARRY FOYT: I think the way the yellows fell, the race played out in a pretty basic way. There weren’t any crazy strategy decisions. We knew we had a car that was capable of winning. But Takuma was just so good that day. He was just in the zone; I don’t know how else to say it. He was really on point. There just wasn’t much drama other than those double-file restarts.
RAUL PRADOS: Maybe it looked easy. I can guarantee you that back in the pits it didn’t feel that way, maybe because of the emotions of being in a position to win it. That last stint felt really, really long.
With eight laps to go, Sato held a 3.0s lead over Rahal, who needed to keep an eye on his fuel. Tony Kanaan provided a late bit of excitement when he crashed while battling Oriol Servia with two laps to go, but race control responded with a local yellow at Turn 1. A full course caution was called on the final lap , but by then Sato was only two corners away from the checker.
TAKUMA SATO: [Over the radio as he crosses the finish line] That was really nice!
LARRY FOYT: [Over the radio from the pitwall immediately after the checker] Those last laps seemed to take forever…
TAKUMA SATO: It just felt amazing. Winning, no matter which category you are in, feels so, so special. Even in the junior formulae – winning… there’s nothing like it. And to do it in a major series like IndyCar, and particularly at Long Beach, and then particularly with A.J. Foyt Racing. Of course, we all believe we can do a competitive race, but to actually win…
It was my first win in a major category. My last win had been back in 2001, at Macau in Formula 3. In Formula 1 I finished third [ED: At the 2004 U.S. Grand Prix], but I didn’t win a race. So for me… leading a race is something I’d experienced so many times, but leading so much of the race, and really controlling the field towards the end, that gave me so much satisfaction. And I could just imagine the boys from the No. 14 team on the pitwall biting their nails, and I could hear Larry’s voice on the radio sort of vibrating a little bit, because he was nervous too, but I just felt so comfortable there controlling the race. That’s the main thing I remember.
DON HALLIDAY: I remember a feeling of relief for everybody. All the places I’ve been have been a sort of David vs Goliath group, and I’ve really enjoyed that. We were definitely the David in the scene there. And everything just came together. The pitstops were amazing… nobody put a foot wrong.
The one bittersweet note to the victory was that the team patriarch was not there to experience it in person. A.J. Foyt still traveled to virtually all of the races at that point, but with heart surgery scheduled for later in the week, he’d been forced to take a pass on Long Beach.
LARRY FOYT: Dad was at home. At that time he was traveling to pretty much all the races when he was feeling well. So that was big on so many levels, because I remembered stories he had told me… I believe both his parents passed shortly after he’d qualified for Indy. He really wanted to bring the trophy home for his Dad, because his Dad was pretty sick. So it was good for us as a group, because even though he wasn’t there, he was always such a big presence for us, and to know that we could go out on our own and bring something back to him… it meant a lot.
And he was very happy for us. He watched the whole race, and he was super-happy for us. And it was good for ABC, because they’d stuck with us for a long time hoping to get that first win. And for us, still a small group but with the history and everything… it was hard with Dad not being there, but it was still great to make that phone call with good news.
TAKUMA SATO: The first voice I heard when I jumped out of the cockpit was A.J.’s, over the phone, and he was so happy.
I can remember the celebration like yesterday. We enjoyed the moment, so much and in fact I enjoyed it too much. I did a victory lap, and then on the podium with me was Justin Wilson, who was a long-time friend, and Graham Rahal, who in the future would be my teammate for several years. The two tallest guys on the grid – and then in between them, me, probably the shortest guy!
So I did a one-lap celebration lap, but I was already covered in champagne, completely soaking wet. And remember, it was quite a cold temperature. I was air-cooled so badly, so by the time I came back…
Then I had to do three hours of satellite interviews, still soaking wet – and we did it on the beach, and the beach was so windy. So I felt so bad after that. I knew the team wanted to celebrate so badly at the dinner, but I was shivering and felt awful, and had a high temperature, so I went to bed! So we weren’t able to celebrate together that night, me and Larry, but I know it meant a lot to him, and A.J., and the entire team.
Celebrating on the victory lap with Rahal and Wilson, whose drive from 24th to third after being forced to sit out qualifying is worth a story in itself “I’m still kind of confused why I’m sat here,” the Brit admitted in the post-race press conference. Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Images
DON HALLIDAY: I remember when I was going through my degree and you’d have a finals exam, and then you’d walk out of the room and somebody would say, ‘what do you think? How did you answer such-and-such?’ And I’d say, ‘er, I don’t remember that one’, because I’d already moved onto the next challenge. I think it’s like that for me with the race. It was a good feeling going through the weekend because you could feel it building, and there was a growing confidence in what Takuma felt he could do with the car, and the envelope the car had was more than you needed, I thought. But once we had the result, I relaxed very quickly.
RAUL PRADOS: I remember everybody being super-happy, and the team going to dinner to celebrate. It had been a long time since the last victory for Foyt.
It was super-special. The victory was fantastic, but something I have a great memory of was going into the Indy 500 and leading the championship for A.J. Foyt. He is a legend, and he was happy, and you could tell. I have nothing but good things to say about A.J. He’s very emotional, but he has a great heart and he is very, very passionate. So it was fantastic to be part of that atmosphere. You had a flag that showed you were leading the championship, and obviously at that time we had the flag for the whole Month of May. That felt very special and was very motivating for the whole team.
Long Beach 2013 was followed immediately by another street course: Sao Paulo. After a slow start to the weekend, the No.14 team found their stride and Sato led a large part of the race before being passed on the final lap by Hinchcliffe.
TAKUMA SATO: Firestone brought the previous year’s tire package, so the performance of the grip was different [to Long Beach] and the teams that were competitive in 2012 were fast again in practice. We were actually struggling a little bit, so we just decided, ‘why not use last year’s setup’, because A.J. Foyt Racing had been good at Sao Paolo in 2012, and all of a sudden we were P2. And then qualifying was competitive, we ended up leading the race and almost winning.
LARRY FOYT: I was still more new to being on the box and I called a pitstop with no tire change to get us to the front, and it almost worked! You don’t see a lot of that anymore.
The Long Beach/Brazil weekends would prove to be Foyt’s peak in 2013. After finishing in the top 10 in three of the opening four races, the No.14 managed just one more top 10 over the rest of the season – a seventh at Milwaukee – and Sato eventually finished the year 17th in the championship.
TAKUMA SATO: In the second half of the season, honestly speaking, we really struggled to develop. Our car maintained its performance but everyone else overtook us.
Sato said the win felt “amazing” at the time. A decade on, it stands as the ultimate symbol of a special era in the Foyt team’s history. Todd Davis/Motorsport Images
RAUL PRADOS: Looking back and thinking about why we didn’t win more, the IndyCar doesn’t have power steering and with Taku, we struggled with the steering. He doesn’t like the very heavy steering that an IndyCar has. It took a few iterations for us to go to a bigger steering wheel. With a bigger steering wheel, it’s much more difficult to make steering corrections, so there is always a little bit of compromise.
I remember throughout the years we changed a lot in terms of Taku’s seating position, the steering wheel size, all to help with that. I think during those years… not over a single lap, but over stints, it would have helped a lot with the consistency. Don’t get me wrong; Taku is extremely fit and highly-committed. It’s not about that; it’s about the leverage and the basic mechanics of his body.
Beyond 2013, if we’d have had a more competitive aero kit in the later part of working with Taku, I think we’d have been more competitive. It’s no secret that when we had the aero kit war, the Chevy aero kit was ahead.
LARRY FOYT: A lot of people don’t realize we had a testing crash at Mid-Ohio after Indy, and I think Takuma injured his wrist, and I think it bothered him more than he let on. You know, the strain of trying to turn these cars… I don’t think he was 100 percent after that.
Any disappointment at how Foyt’s 2013 season ended was tempered by the memories of that April day in Southern California when one of IndyCar’s smallest but most deeply-rooted teams beat everyone on one of the series most fabled circuits.
DON HALLIDAY: It’s amazing what a person can do when their mind is free enough to do it. It’s a very, very subtle thing. I think you see it obviously in tennis and golf, but the sportsperson, the good ones, there is an amazing capacity there. And if you can tap into it and give them the confidence that they perhaps didn’t have in the beginning, you can get a good result if you can mold things around them to allow them to have that good result.
LARRY FOYT: It was great for us. At that time we were still operating completely out of Texas and everybody had written us off, but the whole team was great. We a great sponsor that was very involved, and when you’re fast and you have a group of people that all enjoy working together, it just all came together. That was a lot of fun. Everything just seemed to gel right there. It was a good time.
TAKUMA SATO: Long Beach definitely helped us all bond. Foyt is a fantastic family team, and the No.14 boys were superb. They’re still some of my best friends.