Photo: Brian Spurlock/ASP, Inc.

Sato Bounces Back from Penalty to Sneak into Fast 12 at Indianapolis

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

No attack, no chance.

Takuma Sato put his motto to the test on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as he battled his way inside the top-12 to advance on to the second day of Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

After claiming a spot inside the top-12 during his first qualifying run at an average of 232.196 mph, Sato, who has been among the fastest drivers all week, had his run invalidated by the sanctioning body when it was determined he interfered with Marco Andretti’s qualifying attempt, setting the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda team back to square one.

Following his first run, Sato remained on track during his cooldown instead of using the access road when Andretti started his attempt, forcing Andretti to back out of the throttle when the two met in Turn 3 on Andretti’s warm-up lap.

Andretti was incensed on the radio after the encounter, as well as on the Peacock broadcast, noting his displeasure with Sato.

“Well to start the lap, I’m on the brakes because Sato’s just stopped in the middle of (Turn) 3, so to start a run on the brakes I don’t think is very fair and it should never happen,” Andretti said. “But I’m really bummed. If they count that as my run, I’m pretty bummed because of the start of that.

“I don’t know why that should count, like, you shouldn’t have to run into another car on your qualifying lap.”

Sato noted that he was not aware that Andretti was on track during his cooldown lap, adding that when he finally saw Andretti, he elected to hold his line instead of darting down to the access lane to avoid a collision between the two.

“First of all, I really didn’t have any idea,” Sato said. “I’ve got no information about that and just coming down to the pit, and it was a surprise to Marco.

“When I saw him in the crossing that better not to move anything, right? Obviously, it shouldn’t happen, but it happened, so we try to prevent to us happening and not happening in the future. That’s all.”

After a lengthy deliberation, IndyCar officials handed down the interference penalty to Sato, erasing his first qualifying run, leaving the team no other choice but to make another attempt.

With rain bearing down on the 2.5-mile track and all 33 entries having already made their first qualifying attempt, Sato headed out to make his second run, hoping for enough speed to be able to crack the top 12 and advance to Day 2 of Indy 500 qualifying.

As Sato barreled through Turn 2 on his third of four qualifying laps, he ran wide off the turn, sideswiping the wall. Instead of backing out and aborting his run, Sato kept his foot in it, completing the remaining laps and putting up an average of 231.708 mph to bump teammate David Malukas from the 12th and final transfer spot.

Sato explained afterwards that he didn’t feel anything that alarmed him in the car after striking the wall, which helped him make the decision to finish out the run.

“It’s qualifying, so you’ve got to be in the flat through there,” Sato said.

“Two things happened: Of course, after I hit the wall or brushed the wall, shall we say, if the car starts wiggle, which means your drive train has been damaged and we should abort it, and also look at the tire pressure. If there’s any indication of weakness on the tire pressure down the back straight, then you should avoid it too because of safety reason to go to turn three.

“Neither things happened, so obviously, when I brushed the wall, there’s two choices: Whether to go flat or not. As I said, it’s qualifying. I decided to go flat, and then basically it saved me in the bubble, but it was in P12. All in all, I think it was happy.”

Even after bumping his way into the Fast 12, just under four hours remained on the clock with a number of other drivers looking to improve their qualifying runs.

However, Sato got a helping hand from Mother Nature as rain moved in, ultimately forcing an early end to qualifying and securing his advancement on to the second day of qualifying on Sunday.

Sato and the other drivers in the Fast 12 will have an hour and a half of practice starting at 12:30 pm ET on Sunday, followed by Fast 12 qualifying at 4:00 pm, and the run for the pole among the top-six at 5:10 pm. Practice can be seen on Peacock, with qualifying also airing on NBC.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.