Race Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

LEEDS, Ala. April 7, 2013—This race weekend was about bouncing back from adversity.

Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team appeared to have the speed they needed to make their second Firestone Fast Six final qualifying round Saturday but an official’s judgment call and ensuing  penalty dropped him to 12th on the grid.

Not one to dwell on the negatives, Sato determined he was going to be attacking right from the start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He wasted no time as he quickly jumped into 11th and, after a short yellow period for a first lap melee in the rear of the field, Sato had another good restart and moved into ninth by lap seven.

He pitted on lap 23 and went from the alternate (red) tires to the harder compound primary (black) tires. He was off in 7.4 seconds. He didn’t like the primary tire as much; indeed the car was not nearly as quick on the harder tire. He opted for the alternate tire on the next stop.

On the lap 43 pit stop, the tires and fueling went well but as Sato tried to leave the pits, he was not able to engage a gear. By the time the problem was resolved, he dropped from 13th to 23rd.

Now on a set of slightly worn alternate tires (used in one of the qualifying rounds), Sato began to carve his way through the field.

Qualifying Report: Honda Indy GP of Alabama

LEEDS, Ala. April 6—Takuma Sato ran fast enough in the ABC Supply Honda to make it into the Firestone Fast Six – the final round of qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama only to be knocked out by an official’s decision about an on track incident. Sato’s time was disallowed and he will now start 12th.

The incident involved Justin Wilson whose qualifying lap was ruined when he came upon a slowing Sato, who was trying to create more distance between himself and the car ahead of him so he could get a clean lap. Wilson came upon Sato in turn 8 and had to check up.

“It’s disappointing for us not to be able to show our performance in the Fast Six,” Sato said. “We had a difficult practice session this morning, but we worked on our setup and in the first two segments the car was much more connected and I was able to commit and we advanced to the Fast Six. However, in the second segment I had to back off because there was a slower car in front of me at the exit of turn five. So I abandoned my qualifying lap and I tried to stretch the space. I checked my mirror on the back straight and there was no one there and then going through turns 7 and 8, Justin caught me. Unfortunately, that was possibly the worst place for this to happen because of the elevation changes make those turns blind. When I was able to see that he was coming on, I tried to keep my line tight and let him have the racing line. Obviously it was close but I was disappointed to be penalized.”

The team would have made their second Fast Six in a row which would have been a first for AJ Foyt Racing so the disappointment was keen.

Practice Report: Honda Grand Prix of Alabama

LEEDS, Ala. April 5, 2013—After strong rains on Thursday, Barber Motorsport Park was sunny and pleasantly cool on Friday afternoon as competitors in the IZOD IndyCar Series took to the track to prepare for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Takuma Sato was 10th quickest after two practice sessions; he reached a top speed of 120.032mph and logged 32 laps. Helio Castroneves was quickest with a speed of 120.81mph in his Chevrolet-powered car. Six of the top 10 cars used Honda power.

“It was not an easy day for us,” Sato said, “we worked on the car after the IndyCar Open Test [in mid-March] because we weren’t particularly happy with the balance—the car has reasonable speed but balance-wise it just wasn’t there. We tried a few things today and we did get some good data but we have to work hard to get things together.

“Also the conditions made it difficult today because we had weepers all over the track so in the optimum race line you had to go around them which made it a little inconsistent too, but it was the same for everybody. The warmer conditions made for less grip so we have to adapt for it and hopefully we find the better balance for tomorrow.”

There will be a 30-minute morning practice at 8 a.m. Qualifying on the 2.3-mile road course will begin at 10:25 a.m. The 90-lap race will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network Sunday with pre-race coverage starting 3:00 p.m ET.

NOTES & QUOTES: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Takuma Sato on Barber Motorsport Park: “I like the circuit, it has nice flowing high speed corners with good elevation changes. Also a couple of the corners are blind so it is always challenging here. It’s a quite unique and fast track –and it’s beautiful.”

Sato on where to pass: “At any of corners it’s possible to pass if the guy is out of shape, but mostly it’s very difficult because the entry speed is too high and didn’t have much opportunity to go alongside under the braking. But the hairpin is different so that is the most popular and only place to pass under the normal conditions.”

Sato on the track’s museum: “Very impressive. The first time I went there was in 2010--my first year in IndyCar. It was just such an amazing collection! Particularly it is a private collection and the world largest collections of motorcycles. There were also many different types of race cars plus historical things. Some of the collection is runnable which is impressive too. I think it is one of the nicest facilities anywhere, and as a circuit it is a great track.”

Sato on the key to success at Barber: “Need a good car! (laughs) I think it requires a really good balance. You spend a lot of time in cornering because it’s not 90-degree corners like a street course has, there are some long corners that you have to back on power before car pointing straight. So you need to have a good stability on entry but minimize a mid corner under-steer. Average speed is high too so to get good balance for both aero and mechanical is the key."