By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The first guy out to fight for the Indianapolis 500 pole position was Takuma Sato, and for awhile, it appeared Sunday would’ve been another milestone to his racing career. Then Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti stole his thunder and out-qualified him, but nonetheless, Sato will start third for next Sunday’s 104th Indy 500.
In his 10 previous Indy 500 starts, Sato qualified no better than fourth back in 2017, the year he won the 500-mile race. After Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout, he became the first Japanese driver to start on the front row.
This feat was done as a result of consistency in his entire four-lap qualifying run where his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda stayed above 230 mph where his best single-lap speed was on the second lap when he went 230.916 mph. It turned out to be the only occurrence where a driver’s best lap wasn’t on the first.
Sato’s final two laps dipped just a tad, but compared to the other eight competitors that went after him, he only lost 0.396 mph between his best (230.916 mph on Lap 2) and worst lap speed (230.520 mph on Lap 4) which was the lowest among the Fast Nine competitors. He attributed his qualifying stability to his morning preparation as he felt partaking the morning practice session with his teammate Graham Rahal (starting eighth) was ideal to see how the warm conditions will dictate a driver’s run, especially since he was the first one to qualify.
“I wanted to see the conditions to optimize the car for that,” said Sato. “That was extremely important since we didn’t particularly have a big speed. As you can see, my four laps was very consistent. That’s because I prepare for it because we didn’t have a big speed.”
“The Fast Nine was fantastic, and the whole team did a fantastic preparation, but we were definitely helped by condition yesterday for earlier part of the drawing. Today will be a real challenge to prove our speed and competitiveness.”
Once Sato completed his qualifying run, he was very happy to lay out 10 consistent miles and felt great to be a part of the front row for next Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).
“I’m very happy to manage the four laps in the very, very, let’s say, consistent run. That’s put me on the front row,” said Sato. “At that time I didn’t really expect (it). I know my qualify was pretty good. We know other competitors has very, very fast car. We weren’t sure.
“As you see, the conditions, everybody struggle with the gusty wind compared to yesterday. It’s getting more realistic now, second row, first row. Unbelievable feeling.”