Sato, Ganassi Racing Set Pace As Practice Beings at Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 18 2023

Takuma Sato of Chip Ganassi Racing moved to the front during Wednesday’s practice for the 2023 Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Led by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner-turned-ringer Takuma Sato, Chip Ganassi Racing drivers posted four of the top-seven fastest speeds during Wednesday’s delayed Opening Day practice session for the 107th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Sato and CGR teammate Scott Dixon were the only drivers to record laps over 229 mph around the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval one day after rain forced cancellation of Tuesday’s originally scheduled Opening Day.

Practice is booked to run through “Fast Friday” on May 19. Qualifying is booked for Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21, followed by a two-hour practice on Monday, May 22.

Sato celebrated his IMS debut with Ganassi Racing by turning a hot lap of 39.2261-seconds/229.439 mph in the No. 11 Honda during the final two hours under sunny skies and air temperatures in the mid-70s. Dixon, the Indy 500 champion in 2008 and the two-time/reigning pole-winner, was second-fast at 39.2714-seconds/229.174 mph in the No. 9 CGR Honda on a lap recorded in the first 10 minutes of the session.

This is “Taku’s” first 500 with Ganassi’s Honda-powered juggernaut. The fan favorite from Japan won the 2017 Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport and repeated in 2020 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Sato has joined a CRG lineup featuring Dixon, a six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and native of New Zealand; reigning Indy 500 champion Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and 2021 series champ Alex Palou of Spain.

“The organization is very impressive,” said Sato, 46, who completed 93 laps. “Everything is in the right place and the right people. They use their resources and make the most of it. Preparation is simply impressive.

“Today on the track, all four drivers divided a few different programs. I wasn’t particularly happy with the kind of sensation I was getting in the morning. We’re just working on what’s the best way. In the afternoon, the group run by Ganassi was a great hint for me about what needs to be done. We went for it and we had a big tow, and that’s why we have a very successful platform right now.”

Team Chevy’s entries were led by Santino Ferrucci, third overall at 39.3053-seconds/228.977 mph in his Indy 500 debut for A.J. Foyt Racing.

“After the Open Test (on April 21), I don’t think we were feeling too strong,” Ferrucci said. “So to roll out of the box here and after the first few laps in the car, I just got out and said, ‘Hey, look, the car’s good.’ The raw speed of the car out of the box was phenomenal. To make two or three small changes, a couple of little aero or ride-height things, you’re not looking at mind-blowing, reinventing-the-wheel changes. By the time we were done, we went out with new (Firestone Firehawk) tires and even passed some cars. We were just working on trying to follow closer and the lap time was there.”

A 23-year-old native of Woodbury, Conn., Ferrucci was voted Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 2019 after starting 23rd and finishing seventh with Dale Coyne Racing. The No. 14 at IMS is, of course, synonymous with team-owner A.J. Foyt Jr., first four-time winner of the Indy 500. “To be the fastest Chevy in the No. 14 is pretty cool,” Ferrucci said. “Start the Month of May off, and we just have to carry the momentum.”

Palou is the current series point-leader following his first victory of 2023 on Saturday in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS Road-Course. Palou placed fourth overall Wednesday at 228.720 mph in Ganassi’s No. 10 Honda.

Team Penske was paced by native New Zealander Scott McLaughlin, fifth at 228.473 mph in the No. 3 Chevrolet. Ericsson rounded-out the Ganassi entries in seventh at 227.701 mph in the No. 8 Honda.

Helio Castroneves began his “Drive for Five” at IMS with a top lap of 225.154 mph that placed the native Brazilian a conservative 24th on the speed chart. Castroneves joined Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears in the exclusive Four-Time Winners Club on May 30, 2021 in his IMS debut for Meyer Shank Racing. Helio scored his previous Indy 500 victories (2001, 2002, 2009) for Team Penske.

Castroneves started the first half of the day focused on solo running and working on the balance of the No. 06 Honda. The team also tested some new aero components for oval-track running _ items which made their competitive debuts during the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last month. Castroneves finished Wednesday with 84 laps-run.

“We’re back!” said Castroneves, 48, who is poised to make his 23rd Indy 500 start on Sunday, May 28. “There’s a process for the first day of practice. You have to go through the car and what the team did during the offseason. You really just leave it all out there and follow your own program of things. We obviously would have liked to have more laps, but with (Tuesday) being canceled the day has been kind of compressed. At the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat. We’ll come back (Thursday) and continue working on what we have and see what we can do.”

Florida native R.C. Enerson, 26, completed the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program in the No. 50 Chevrolet, as all 34 entries combined to turn 3,455 laps/8,637.5 miles during a busy six-hour session. Practice is schedule to run Thursday from noon-6 p.m. (EDT).

The event’s traditional final, two-hour practice is set for Miller Lite Carb Day on Friday, May 26. Pre-event coverage on Race Day will begin at 11 a.m. on NBC, Peacock, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Green flag for the flying start on May 28 is set to wave at 12:45 p.m.



Winners (9) _ Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Alexander Rossi.

Rookies (4) _ Agustín Canapino, R.C. Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen, Sting Ray Robb.

U.S. drivers (13) _ Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, R.C. Enerson, Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Sting Ray Robb, Alexander Rossi.

International drivers (21 from 14 countries) _ Agustín Canapino, Helio Castroneves, Devlin DeFrancesco, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, Callum Ilott, Tony Kanaan, Katherine Legge, Christian Lundgaard, Scott McLaughlin, Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud, Alex Palou, Benjamin Pedersen, Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Takuma Sato, Rinus VeeKay, Stefan Wilson.

Engines (34) _ Honda 17, Chevrolet 17 (all cars use Dallara chassis and Firestone Firehawk tires).

Point Standings (top-15): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 174; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren, 168; 3, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 155; 4, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 134; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 133; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 131; 7, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 127; 8, Will Power, Team Penske, 122; 9, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 111; 10, Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren and Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport, 108; 12, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport with Curb/Agajanian, 107; 13, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren, 97; 14, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, 92; 15, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 86.


Sunday, March 5 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, April 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske

Sunday, April 16 _ Streets of Long Beach: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport

Sunday, April 30 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Saturday, May 13 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, May 28 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 4 _ Streets of Detroit, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 18 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 2 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio. USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 16 _ Streets of Toronto, Peacock

Saturday, July 22 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, July 23 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 6 _ Streets of Nashville, NBC/Peacock

Saturday, Aug. 12 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 27 _World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill., NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 3 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 10 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif., NBC/Peacock

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 18 2023
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