Qualifying Report: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. April 20, 2013—Chemistry is hard to define but when a team has it, people notice. And people are noticing Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply team as they have been fast from the start of this season. For both driver and team, it is the best start to the IZOD IndyCar Series season in recent memory.

Sato qualified fourth in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach today. It is his second appearance in the Firestone Fast Six qualifying round in three events. And if not for an official’s ruling at the last race at Barber Motorsports Park, Sato would have been three for three in the Fast Six. That feat would have put him in the company of Team Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves. As the record stands, Sato joins defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie Tristan Vautier as drivers to have two Fast Six appearances this season.

“It’s been an interesting day and certainly a good day to be able to get into the Firestone Fast Six and set the fourth quickest lap,” said Sato, whose previous best start on the 11-turn, 1.9 mile street course was sixth [2012]. However, last year he benefitted from grid penalties for unapproved engine changes levied to the Chevrolet-powered teams--as did the Foyt team which started seventh with driver Mike Conway.

This time there were no gimmes.

However, there was a little consternation in the ABC Supply camp after this morning’s practice which saw Sato 17th in the speed ranking.  Since he was third in Friday’s morning session and ninth in the afternoon session (with very limited laps due to so many red flags), this morning’s result surprised chief engineer Don Halliday. Pouring through the data with assistant engineer Raul Prados, the team found the right combination in time for qualifying Saturday afternoon.

“We had a little struggle in the last practice session to get the balance right but we worked really hard to find extra speed,” Sato said. “In qualifying I was able to push really hard and happy to be in the second row. Obviously you always want more speed to be in the front row but the team did a good job and we’ve shown consistent speed through the last three events. With my best starting position at Long Beach so far, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s race.”

Qualifying at a speed of 105.042 mph, Sato will line up alongside Will Power (105.118 mph - Chevy) and behind the front row of pole winner Dario Franchitti (105.369 mph - Honda) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (105.282 mph - Chevy). Conway, making his first start of the season, posted a 104.806 mph lap to start fifth in his Honda-powered car. Castroneves (104.235mph – Chevy) rounded out the top six.

There will be a final warmup session tomorrow morning before the race starts at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon. NBC Sports Network will begin its race coverage at 4 p.m. ET.

When Sato was asked about his race strategy tomorrow, he replied simply, “Go fast.”