Sato Excels In The Rain For IndyCar Pole
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – With heavy rain pouring down and drenching the 1.8-mile temporary street course for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Takuma Sato was certain qualifications would be canceled and he would be forced to start in the middle of the pack in Sunday’s season-opener of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Good fortune came his way, however, as IndyCar officials were able to dry the race track, stage two preliminary races and then start IndyCar qualifications in the evening hours in St. Petersburg. Once the skies cleared and the track dried, Sato drove team owner A.J. Foyt’s Dallara/Honda to the pole with a fast time of 1:01.868 (104.738 mph) around the 14-turn course for the fourth pole in his IndyCar career.
“Qualifying was a very dramatic weather change,” Sato said. “I’m very pleased the league (IndyCar) and promoters to make possible for the qualifying session this evening because otherwise I would have to start middle of the pack tomorrow. It’s a fantastic day. I can’t be really asking any more in the start to the season. I’m really happy where we are today.
“Over the course of the winter, we did really extensive winter test program. Everything worked out really well. We had a strong package last year here, but obviously there are quite a few changes on the car: tires, twin turbo engine, et cetera, et cetera. It’s all good.”
Tony Kanaan made the most of his first race in the famed No. 10 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing ride by qualifying second with a lap at 1:02.163 (104.241 mph).
“It feels good not to see 17 cars in front of me on the start,” Kanaan said. “We were doing the math and it’s been probably three years I haven’t made it to the Fast Six. It’s good. It’s just qualifying. You still got to make it to turn one tomorrow. We’ll see.
“I’m happy. The whole team, I think we did a great job. We were pretty competitive all weekend with one of our cars. Probably for the fans qualifying was fun, but for us it was quite hard.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay gave Honda two cars in the top three when the Andretti Autosport driver ran a fast lap at 1:02.216 (104.152 mph). Team Penske’s Will Power was fourth in a Chevrolet at 1:02.395 (103.854 mph) followed by defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon’s 1:02.445 (103.771 mph). Marco Andretti rounded out the Fast Six in an Andretti Autosport Honda at 1:02.959 (102.923 mph).
Big names that are starting way back in the pack including Juan Pablo Montoya, who is back in this form of racing for the first time since leaving CART in 2000. Montoya qualified 18th after running the Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:12.699 (84.363 mph) in a first session where much of the race course was still wet.
“The biggest problem for the No. 2 Verizon Chevy was the last corner, for some reason,” Montoya said. “I just couldn’t come off that corner and get the car to turn. (Takuma) Sato was in front of me and I would lose everything to him right there. It is what it is. I haven’t driven in wet conditions in a long time and we never had an opportunity to do it in testing. I don’t think we’re that far off. I’m still getting acclimated back to the Verizon IndyCar Series. My team is still getting acclimated to me. If that process was complete we would be a lot better. We are definitely making progress.”
Defending race winner James Hinchcliffe start 19th in the 22-car field after he was a first round elimination after a lap at 2:34.486 (41.945 mph) when he was another victim of a wet race course.