Sato leads opening day of practice at St. Petersburg

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Verizon Indycar Series post-practice quotes.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Takuma Sato topped the time chart in the second practice session to lead the opening days of preparations for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The Japanese driver recorded a best lap of 1 minute, 2.5615 seconds. Driving the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply car, after he was third in the morning session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit.

Takuma Sato, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda
Takuma Sato, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda

Photo by: Chris Jones

'I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track," said Sato, who has a best finish of fifth in four previous races. "The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well and we made good progress during this session. Let's hope this continues and we will work on speed for (qualifying)."

Sebastien Bourdais holds the track record of 1:00.928 in qualifying for the 2003 race sanctioned by CART.

Graham Rahal in the No. 15 National Guard car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second quick (1:02.6122) and Will Power, who has earned the pole in each of the past four years, was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car (1:02.6443). Teammate Helio Castroneves, a three-time winner of the race, was fourth and Simon Pagenaud was fifth in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car.

Five Hondas and an equal number of Chevrolet-powered cars occupied the top 10. The top 19 cars were separated by less than a second.

Rahal, whose victory at St. Petersburg in '08 made him the youngest winner in Indy car history, won the pole the following March.

"Overall, for our first day out I think it was a great day," said Rahal. "For us to be that competitive right off the bat feels awesome. I have to say most of all I am proud of these National Guard guys because it was only 48, maybe 72 hours ago that we had a big trailer fire and our guys did an incredible job getting everything switched back over in Indy. It was a rush, it was absolutely a rush to get down here."

The crew was to have the day off, but everyone reported to the Brownsburg, Ind., headquarters by 6 a.m. to offer assistance.

"I am proud of them and as Dad said last night to them 'through adversity comes a team' and I think we have a great group of people and I think that is going to show this year," added Rahal, referring to team co-owner Bobby Rahal.

In the first session of the season, 2013 race winner James Hinchcliffe was quickest of the 22 drivers at 1:02.9326.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track. The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well, and we made good progress during this session. I am happy with the balance and the boys and the team worked really well today. Let's hope this continues and we will work on speed for tomorrow."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "I'm a little frustrated that we lost a bit of performance there in the second session. We just lost a little bit and we didn't put tires on the whole session. We started on used tires and ran on them the whole time, but I think we are better than that. I'd like to think we can get into the top-10, we just have to try to get a bit more front grip out of it. The front feels pretty light everywhere so we'll just keep working on it and try a few things overnight and come back tomorrow."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "Overall, it was a good job by the Hitachi guys today and it was good to get back out there after a long offseason. We avoided any issues and Mother Nature was messing with us a little bit. We improved a lot over the course of the day and put things together for a good session in the afternoon. That was a much smoother practice and we will continue learning and improving in the Hitachi Chevy as we go along."

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Not a bad day today with the No. 2 Verizon Chevy. Obviously we wanted to be a little further up the speed charts, but we knew it was going to be a learning process. This is my first time on this circuit so we had to guess a little bit on the setups. Unfortunately we unloaded pretty far off. In the second sessions we picked up a big understeer. At that point we really quit focusing on speed and just tried to get the car driving better. I learned quickly that there are places on the track where the penalty of missing it is much greater than the gain, so from a track-learning perspective I'm much better off than I was when I got here."

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "We had a very productive day with the Target team although the times might not necessarily show it. Today is the day to make changes and try a lot of different things, and that's what we took advantage of doing. We ran into some traffic and lost some time like everyone else, but that's pretty typical for a street course race. I'm optimistic about tomorrow and gaining more time."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "I think we are in a better position this afternoon than we were this morning with the Target cars. The times are all pretty tight throughout the field and I think a lot of the other teams took tires at the very end of that session, when we opted not to. We're making progress but we just need to keep working hard and be ready for qualifying tomorrow."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 National Guard Honda): "Overall for our first day out I think it was a great day. For us to be that competitive right off the bat feels awesome. I've got to say most of all I am proud of these National Guard guys because it was only 48, maybe 72 hours ago that we had a big trailer fire and our guys did an incredible job getting everything switched back over in Indy. It was a rush, it was absolutely a rush to get down here. I am proud of them and as dad said last night to them "through adversity comes a team" and I think we have a great group of people and I think that is going to show this year."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a good day for the Verizon Team. We tried to find the right set up, going back and forth with different things, but, overall, I feel real positive about us going back at it again tomorrow."

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Honda): "We took things nice and slow this morning in the first session. I was trying to stay away from the walls and keep our car safe as I learned the track. After a clean morning session I pushed a little more in the afternoon session. We found a nice set-up in the second session. My best lap time that put me in P13 was on used tires, which is very encouraging. It was definitely a good start for us but we have a lot of work to do for sure."

CARLOS HUERTAS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "I was just learning the circuit and the car. I didn't get a lot of laps in the morning so it was good that it was dry because the race should be dry. I only ran one set of tires so I don't think it was that bad."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "It's great to be back here in St. Pete. It was a pretty good first day back at the track. We made some good setup changes but we still have some work to do for tomorrow. I think we're on the right track.

MIKE CONWAY (Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "We didn't find as much as we wanted between sessions 1 and 2. We are struggling a bit to get the Fuzzy's Chevy where we would like it in terms of time. We tried a lot of things today and we'll study our data and see where we can improve for Saturday. The track wasn't as bad with the grip level. I think we can get better for the qualifying runs. We continue to learn with Ed's team and find the proper settings that I like too. It's the season opener so you would like to come out of the gate well. I know we are working hard to find the best setup."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Novo Nordisk Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "We had a really good first day. The No. 83 Novolog FlexPen car made a lot of progress and we got some great data from our teammates. I have full confidence that we'll come back tomorrow strong."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): "Good first day, honestly. The second session was a little bit of a tossup with the weather the way it was. We maybe didn't get as good of read as we would have liked but, at the end of the day, we weren't going the be the guys that did something silly and put the car into the wall trying to win practice. I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned up and I think a good basis to build on for the United Fiber & Data car."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "It was an interesting day, just never really got the flow going - it was just chopped up with red flags so we never really got into a rhythm. We should have been fifth or sixth in the second session, so still have some work to do for tomorrow and will hopefully get the DHL car up front."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 Snapple Honda): "The second session was a lot of (red flags) so by the time we got going we only had about 12 laps on the tires. That's some of (the reason for our finishing position), but we still need to improve on the back end (of the car) right now. If the rain starts tonight, tomorrow will be starting over. Typically every practice you have more and more grip, but the rain will wash that away and we'll start over."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda): "Everything went really well today on practice day one. We worked a lot with the Honda engineers to refine our progress on the engine. The drivability is really good and all of the Honda cars are strong. We're getting ready for some rain tomorrow followed by a dry race which will make for an interesting weekend. So far the car is fast in practice. We're trying to tune it to gain a little bit of rotation that would help us release the brake sooner and carry more speed. I'm tuning my driving too. The first race of the year is interesting because we readapt at one of the most difficult street circuits of the entire season. There is a lot to pay attention to with mental preparation after a long break but we're in a good place."

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet): "It was good to be back on track with all the other drivers for the first time in six months. The Hydroxycut - KVSH Racing team had a productive morning practice. The afternoon session wasn't as good because of the weather conditions. We weren't as fast as we hoped, but I don't think we are that far off. We will review the data and make some changes for tomorrow morning's practice, then see what we can do in qualifying."

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 AFS KVAFS Chevrolet): "It was kind of a rough start for the KV AFS team today. Wasn't quite how we wanted to start the weekend, but I think we have now found the right direction to go. We just need to focus on a few small things, which will make a big difference to the car. There is a lot of work to do tonight, but tomorrow is an important day and we need to keep that momentum."

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About this article
Series INDYCAR
Article type Practice reports
Tags carlos huertas, charlie kimball, graham rahal, helio castroneves, indycar, james hinchcliffe, juan pablo montoya, justin wilson, marco andretti, mikhail aleshin, ryan hunter-reay, scott dixon, sebastien bourdais, simon pagenaud, takuma sato, tony kanaan, will power