Takuma Sato Qualifies Second for Best Start Ever in Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, FL March 23, 2013—The most unlikely pairing in the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock served notice today.

Takuma Sato qualified A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 ABC Supply Honda on the front row of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg; Sato will start alongside four-time St. Pete pole winner Will Power in his Chevrolet-powered Team Penske car. The run is Sato’s and the team’s best at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.

They were the only two drivers in the Firestone Fast Six to break the 105-mph barrier with Power setting a new track record with his 1:01.2 timed lap. Sato’s best lap was three tenths of a second shy of the record and nearly two tenths quicker than Simona de Silvestro’s Chevrolet who qualified third for her career best start. Rounding out the top six were James Hinchcliffe (Chevrolet), Helio Castroneves (Chevrolet) and rookie Tristan Vautier (Honda) who won the Firestone Indy Lights title last year.

“It’s really good—it’s made the whole team really motivated,” said Sato. “The team obviously worked really hard over the course of the winter test program. We came here with reasonable balance and for qualifying we trimmed it really well. First segment, second segment, and third segment –we were all p-2. That was really a perfect result for the team and I was really pleased to get it done.”

The effort marked the second straight street race that the AJ Foyt Racing team qualified second, with Mike Conway doing so last year in Baltimore. In that race Conway started 12th however, because the team was subjected to a 10-spot grid penalty because of an unapproved engine change.

When Sato was signed by Foyt’s team, there were some questions raised about a perceived communication gap which Sato addressed today, saying, “I don’t think we have a problem of ‘Lost in Translation.’ Yes, the team is based in Houston, Texas and I come from Japan but we all communicate very well. The mechanics are working flat out and are full of energy. The whole team is really pumped up, and I feel really happy and proud to be a part of AJ Foyt Racing.”

Team Director Larry Foyt was pleased with the team’s effort, noting, “I’m very happy – it’s awesome to start the season like this. It shows that all the hard work is paying off and, that we, as a team, are coming together and jelling. So far it’s a great fit and hopefully we’ll get a good result tomorrow.”

In two winter testing sessions, Sato showed speed posting the quickest time in a private 13-car test in Sebring, Fla. At the open test in Birmingham, Ala., he was fifth quickest. In yesterday’s practice here, Sato was fifth quickest overall but in today’s morning practice, he was quickest of the 25 cars.

Team owner A.J. Foyt, who missed the open test due to a severe bout of sciatica, did come to St. Petersburg. Although he received a nerve block procedure in Houston a week ago, he was still hurting with the nerve pain. Sato offered the services of his physio, Dr. Take Komatsu who practices acupuncture. Foyt received a treatment this morning which he said helped.

After qualifying, Foyt was feeling even better—but that was due to Sato’s quick run.

“We tested with Takuma, we know he’s fast, he’s been fast with other people so we just want to give him the best car we can,” said A.J. Foyt. “We’re proud of what he did today. It was pretty good.”

Asked about  Foyt’s reaction, Sato said, “I think I made him smile today and I hope he continues to smile tomorrow.”

With over 500 ABC Supply guests in attendance tomorrow, Sato will have a sea of red, white and blue-clad fans cheering for him and the No. 14 car. The series opener will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network with the coverage starting at 12 noon ET.