The Japanese driver, whose philosophy “No Attack, No Chance” has endeared him to many, was clearly in control as the Verizon IndyCar Series kicked off its 2014 season.
ST. PETERSBURG — “Nobody can beat that lap!” That was Takuma Sato’s confident response to Team Director Larry Foyt who called Sato to the pits, telling him he had just taken P1 but there were 30 seconds left in the final round of qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Indeed, Sato, who was quickest on Friday in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, was quickest again in all three rounds of qualifying this evening. He laid down a “mega lap” to top the Firestone Fast Six and win the Verizon P1 Pole Award with a time of 1 minute, 1.8666 seconds, nearly a third of a second quicker than outside pole sitter Tony Kanaan, who was making his first start with the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team. It was Sato’s second straight Fast Six showing in the season opener--last year he qualified second.
Trailing Sato and Kanaan were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti. It is Sato’s fourth pole since he joined the series in 2010, and the second with Foyt’s ABC Supply team. It is the Foyt team’s 44th pole since the team’s formation in December 1965. It is the 11th pole for the team since Foyt retired from driving in 1993.
“We can’t ask for a better start to the season,” said Sato, who credited his ABC Supply team on their decisions which allowed him to adapt to the quickly changing track conditions due to thunderstorms which passed through mid-afternoon. “I’m very pleased that the league and promoters made it possible for the qualifying session [to be held] this evening because otherwise I would have to start middle of the pack,” said Sato. Had qualifying been cancelled and not delayed over three hours, Sato would have had to start 16th based on 2013 entrant points.
Larry Foyt was also happy that qualifying took place around the 1.8-mile street circuit, saying, “I’m extremely proud of this team...from the mechanics to the engineers, everyone worked hard over the winter and stayed focused. They all keep trying to improve and it shows with the way we are beginning this season. We have to send a big thank you to Honda. They put in a huge amount of effort to develop this twin turbo engine, and to win this first pole of 2014 means a great deal.”
The thunderstorms followed by drying winds created a huge unknown for the teams whose practice sessions all took place on a dry track. Teams started the first round of qualifying on rain tires and by round two, Sato was one of three to switch to the slicks, a bold move that saw the other nine drivers follow suit after two laps.
Assessing the quickly changing track, Sato said, “It was very tricky conditions out there. From Q-1 to Q-2 to Q-3, we made significant changes on the springs and the engineers made the right decisions.”
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” said the elder Foyt. “We unloaded fast but it looked like qualifying might be washed out. I’m glad it cleared up so we could qualify and prove we did have the fastest car. I’m really happy for Takuma and the team because they worked hard over the winter, did a lot of testing and it looks like it paid off.”
When asked about his team owner, A.J. Foyt, Sato replied, “A.J. was happy and to make him happy is very difficult to do, so I’m glad we could do that.”
Over 650 guests of sponsor ABC Supply will be in the stands tomorrow to watch the race, which will be televised live on ABC-TV starting at 3pm ET.