Takuma Sato poised for championship contention after Long Beach

Robert Laberge

Takuma Sato finally captured his first IndyCar Series victory on Sunday in the Grand Prix of Long Beach. With the win, he sits just six points behind Helio Castroneves for the top spot in the championship standings. Can Sato contend in 2013?

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Takuma Sato has always carried a reputation that he was on the precipice of breaking through and starting a major hot-streak.

This goes back to his days in Formula 1 with BAR Honda team and has certainly extended to the IndyCar Series with near-misses at Iowa and Indianapolis in recent seasons. Now that he's finally "learned" to win, expect Sato to go on a major tear and compete for the IndyCar championship.

His aggressive nature combined with Foyt chief engineer Don Halliday just works. And judging from their pace together after just two races, they have the capacity for real sustainable momentum in 2013. His victory on Sunday wasn't a fluke either, despite the shared bad days suffered by the big three of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti.

In short, his victory was not stolen on their misfortunes.

Consider that he was third-fastest in final practice and was more than holding his own before the usual contenders began dropping like flies. Sato was going to make a statement this weekend no matter what else happened.

So this isn't just a one-time occurrence. Sato and team owner AJ Foyt have found a rare window of opportunity to compete for a championship.

Despite leading the point standings, Helio Castroneves has not contended in several years and there were real questions about his tenure prior to this past off-season. His Penske teammate Will Power seems to have a black cloud following him ever since his championship-costing accident at Fontana. He's also on a year-long winless streak dating back to his last triumph in Brazil.

Dario Franchitti was mired dead last in the standings until Sunday and is still quite a ways from contention.

As a result, this is perhaps the best chance for Sato and Foyt to steal a championship. The driver affectionately called 'Taku' should be fast at Brazil and remember that he was just a single pass away from winning the Indianapolis 500 last year.

He's capable of contending at every discipline IndyCar visits and he has a car owner who believes in him fully, telling the Associated Press that he finally has a driver who "wants to win." As a result, Foyt and Halliday will give that driver all the required tools, leaving it up to Sato to build his championship.

Do you think Takuma Sato is a championship contender in 2013? Tell us in the comments section below.

More from SB Nation IndyCar:

Graham Rahal scores first podium for family team

Justin Wilson third after starting in the back at Long Beach

Helio Castroneves escapes crash-filled Long Beach with points lead

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