Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 30, 2014—A disappointing finish. Such is the mindset of the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team that a top-10 finish in the Verizon IndyCar Series no longer ranks as a good day. Takuma Sato, who won the Verizon P1 award with the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, finished seventh in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“In the end it was a very tough day today,” Sato said. “The start off the line was good and I got into a nice rhythm the first stint but it looks like we didn’t have enough speed on the second and third set of tires—we struggled a bit to get the balance right. We had a little issue with the pit stop as well, lost a couple places. I tried hard but it was difficult to gain positions on the track today. Overall, I think after such a great qualifying, it’s a disappointing finish. At least the team fought really hard and it was a good job for the weekend and we brought home some points.”

Will Power won the race while Ryan Hunter Reay finished second. Third through fifth were Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud.

Sato and the entire ABC Supply team had been fast the first two days on the 1.8-mile street course, and topped qualifying to win the pole—Sato’s fourth and the team’s 44th. They were fast at the start of the 110-lap race as Sato leapt ahead of row-mate Tony Kanaan to easily take the lead into Turn-1 and extend it to nearly six seconds by the time of his first pit stop.

Takuma Sato Is On Pole at St. Petersburg!

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 29, 2014—“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. 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.

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 team’s 11th pole 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.

Opening Day Practice Report

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 28, 2014—Takuma Sato set the pace in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda for the Verizon Indy Car Series field in the opening day of practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“It was a good day for the ABC Supply team,” Sato said afterwards. “The track conditions were a bit tricky today—gusty winds in the morning and spritzes of rain and cooler temps in the afternoon so maybe it isn’t representative of typical conditions here but the car worked well. We had a strong race here last year so we knew our basic set-up was good but we tried a few items we learned from our winter testing and we were able to improve. Don [Halliday, chief engineer] and the boys did a good job.”

With a time of 1 minute, 2.5615 seconds, Sato posted the quickest lap in the second of two practice sessions around the 1.8-mile course through the streets of St. Petersburg. Second through fifth were Graham Rahal (1:02.6122), Will Power (1:02.6443), Helio Castroneves (1:02.8178), and Simon Pagenaud (1:02.9129), all of whom improved their times from the morning session. In the first practice, Sato was third quickest behind James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson.

The teams will have one more practice session before the qualifying session in the afternoon. If the qualifying session cannot be completed or is cancelled altogether due to inclement weather, the 22-car grid will be set according to last year’s final standings for entrants, in which case Sato would be forced to start 17th.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be televised live by ABC-TV Sunday starting at 3:00pm ET.

Notes & Quotes: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ABC Supply enters its 10th season as sponsor of A.J. Foyt’s team. In the course of the past nine years, the company has entertained well over 50,000 associates and customers at IndyCar Series events. This Sunday, the company will have over 650 guests at the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.

Takuma Sato is in his fifth season driving IndyCars; it is his second year with Foyt. Sato’s thoughts on:

o The team’s winter testing program: “I’m very encouraged by the results of our winter testing program this off-season. We were able to access some areas of the set-up that last year we were questioning, and we got some good answers by doing back-to-back tests. That is very difficult to do during the season or on race weekends due to time and other restrictions. I, personally feel we are much more prepared too because my first test with the team last year was nearly at the end of February, but this winter, we started in December. Psychologically, we are a full two months ahead. There was a lot to learn and we did. Another plus is that we have the same team members from last year so that is very positive because we know each other and what we do. Everyone on the team does a great job, so I am really looking forward to starting a new season.”

o The key to running well in St. Petersburg: “The car usually behaves with a strong understeer [“push”] balance at the St. Pete street course, so the key is to get a sharp, strong front end but keep the rear very stable [not “loose”  or “oversteer”] too as there are some serious high speed corners. The track is unique as we use an airport runway for the main straight-- which is a good fun--but we have to watch out for the huge striped white lines at the Turn 1 entry. Those paint lines make the track very slippery where we need to brake hard and turn-in on them, so that is actually very tricky.”

o The new points system: “I think it’s good, just have to follow the rules. It is exciting and interesting to have double points for the three 500-mile races on the big ovals [Triple Crown events], although it is a little surprising to see there are quite a few points available for Indy 500 qualifying. It is going to be very challenging.”