Sato Is Fastest On ‘Fast Friday’ In Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 20 2023

Takuma Sato flies through a corner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato was “on it” with authority during “Fast Friday” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, turning the fastest practice lap of the Month of May since 1996 on the eve of the start of qualifying.

Sato topped the six-hour session with a lap of 38.3382-seconds/234.753 mph around the 2.5-mile IMS oval in the No. 11 Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. The 46-year-old native of Tokyo, Japan, recorded the ninth-fastest practice lap in Indy 500 history.

The eight fastest practice laps around the famed oval were turned in 1996, led by Dutchman Arie Luyendyk’s circuit at 239.260 mph. Winner of the 1990 Indy 500, Luyendyk’s four-lap/10-mile average in 1996 was 236.986 mph in the No. 5 Reynard/Ford Cosworth XB fielded by team-owner Jonathan Byrd in the first 500 run under the banner of Tony George’s Indy Racing League. Luyendyk recorded his second Indy 500 victory in the 81st edition of the race in 1997.

Sato’s hottest lap Friday was recorded during a four-lap/10-mile qualifying simulation early in the session that he was forced to abandon after coming within inches of touching the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4.

“The beginning of the run, first time today, was really too light,” said Sato, the Indy 500 champion in 2017 with Andretti Autosport and 2020 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “The middle run, we had more downforce and I was getting more comfortable. By the end of the day, I think I wanted to try to find the limit again so we went to a little bit sketchy one (setup) again, so I had to lift in Turn 4. But overall, I think we were very satisfied with our performance.”

Friday marked the second time this week Sato emerged atop the speed chart, as he led the rain-delayed Opening Day of practice Wednesday at 229.439 mph.

“It’s nice to be this quick, this fast, and working with my team and teammates,” said Sato, referring to reigning Indy 500 champion Marcus Ericsson of Sweden, 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon of New Zealand and 2021 IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou of Spain. “We’ve done fantastic preparation and I believe I had the fastest practice lap in 26 years. That is entirely impressive with the current package.

“Our group and HPD (Honda Performance Development) is working extremely hard. This was my first time with the boost with Chip Ganassi Racing and my eyeballs went big on that lap in the morning. We’re all working together to find the limit and find consistency with how we drive the (Firestone Firehawk) tire with the degradation. I love working through the process, and ‘thank you’ to Chip Ganassi Racing for the fantastic opportunity. This is still only a test day, but it’s nice to see the car working so well.” 

Speeds predictably climbed Friday, as extra turbocharger boost added approximately 100 horsepower to the twin-turbo Honda and Chevrolet V-6 engines. That boost also will be available during qualifying today and Sunday.

Former series regular Marco Andretti, the 2020 Indy 500 pole-sitter and grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champ Mario Andretti, was second-fast at 234.202 mph in the No. 98 Honda fielded by Andretti Herta w/Marco & Curb-Agajanian.

Team Chevy _ which closed three days/18 hours of practice without leading any session _ was paced by Rinus VeeKay in third at 234.171 mph in the No. 21 Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.

“I think in the first run, I wasn’t very happy with the balance,” said VeeKay, a native of The Netherlands. “It was just not good for me. We changed it up in the second run. I asked the ECR team and they delivered. Really, for us, it’s great. But anyway, very happy.

“It’s small changes at this point. The team’s base, where we start with the setup, it’s so close to perfect. We did a few balance checks on qual downforce, basically, with the lower boost. We had to make a little tweak but we’re right there. We might make small little adjustments for the temperature (Saturday), but I think it’s just going to be all fine. You don’t want to take too much risk today.”

Ericsson placed fourth at 234.029 mph in the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda fielded by CGR. Native Mexican Pato O’Ward, runnerup to Ericsson in last year’s 500, completed the top five at 233.796 mph in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

“Pretty happy with today, although I just struggled to get those four laps,” said Ericsson, who is attempting to become the race’s first repeat winner since Brazilian ace Helio Castroneves and Team Penske in 2001 and 2002. “The (Ganassi) team did a great job to make some changes. We had to analyze a bit of data and video. We then came out here at the end and got a really solid run in. Still a bit of a drop-off, but we were right up there again.”

All 34 drivers vying for a starting spot in the traditional 33-car field spent the session in four-lap qualifying simulations to prepare for two days of time trials. Sato also posted the fastest four-lap average speed of 233.412 mph during sims.

Three other drivers produced four-lap qualifying sim average speeds of 233 mph, with Ericsson at 233.112 mph; two-time series champion Josef Newgarden at 233.085 mph in the No. 2 Shell Powering Progress Team Penske Chevrolet and two-time/reigning series champ Will Power of Australia at 233.070 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is the only item missing from Newgarden’s otherwise stellar INDYCAR resume with the organization owned by Roger Penske. Newgarden won the only oval-race on the 2023 schedule run to-date, the PPG 375 on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth on April 2.

“It was a good final run (Friday). We had a really disastrous first run,” said Newgarden, the series champion in 2017 and 2019. “You always come out of the gate feeling really excited for today. The boost is up _ and it was a bad first run. We just missed the balance. Came back and had a pretty good second run. We knew we really needed to do one more and get it really right.

“I felt like the Shell car was pretty solid. Look, it’s hard to say today. I think indications look better today than they did on Fast Friday last year. This is going to be more of a fight to get into the top-12 this year. When you look at the cluster of people that are really tight together, it’s much trickier than it looked like last year. We gotta be really on it. We have to nail our run (Saturday). I think the first run is always critical depending upon where you draw. I think Team Chevy has done a stellar job as always, and I hope we can have a good fight to get this into the Sunday show.”

Saturday’s action was scheduled to start with practice from 8:30-9:30 a.m. (EDT), separated into two groups. Qualifying will run from 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m., with spots 13 through 30 in the field of 33 determined.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champion with Andretti Autosport, drew the No. 1 spot in the qualifying order Friday night in his return to IMS driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “Captain America” will enjoy the advantage of cooler air and track temperatures as first driver to attempt to qualify Saturday morning. Sato, meanwhile, drew the 25th spot in the qualifying order, when temperatures could be higher and the track slicker.

“Today was our first day really going after the qualifying trim with the added turbo boost,” said Hunter-Reay, the series champion in 2012 for team-owner Michael Andretti. “It was a trial-and-error day for us. We found things we didn’t like. At the end we did find things we did like and what I needed out of the car. We were in the top-15 in the four-lap average, so I’ll take that and move on to the first day of qualifying.

“You really couldn’t dial too much into it today with wind increasing later in the afternoon. You get to the point where it’s going to be so much different on Saturday that we need to see what we have right now. It’s going to be cooler, and the wind direction is going flip 180 degrees. The good deal is my son, Rhodes, drew No. 1 for qualifying. That’s the best we can ask for entering qualifying.”

Saturday’s 12 fastest drivers will return Sunday to compete for the NTT P1 Award through two rounds of qualifying, while the four slowest cars also will be back on-track to grab one of the final three spots in the field during Last Chance Qualifying. Another two-hour practice is booked for Monday, May 22.

The event’s final, two-hour practice is set for Carb Day on Friday, May 26. Pre-event coverage on Race Day will begin at 11 a.m. (EDT) 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.


Official NTT IndyCar Series entry list for the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 28, with car number in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car name with engine supplier and team entrant:

  1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Nashville, Tenn., Shell Powering Progress Team Penske Chevrolet/Team Penske
  2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Christchurch, New Zealand, Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet/Team Penske
  3. (5) Pato O’Ward, Monterrey, Mexico, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  4. (06) Helio Castroneves-(W), Sao Paulo, Brazil, AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda/Meyer Shank Racing
  5. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Varnamo, Sweden, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  6. (7) Alexander Rossi-(W), Nevada City, Calif., Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  7. (8) Marcus Ericsson-(W), Kumla, Sweden, Huski Ice Spritz Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  8. (9) Scott Dixon-(W), Auckland, New Zealand, PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  9. (10) Alex Palou, Barcelona, Spain, The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  10. (11) Takuma Sato-(W), Tokyo, Japan, Deloitte Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  11. (12) Will Power-(W), Toowoomba, Australia, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet/Team Penske
  12. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Woodbury, Conn., Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet/A.J. Foyt Enterprises
  13. (15) Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, United Rentals Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  14. (18) David Malukas, Chicago, Ill., HMD Trucking Honda/Dale Coyne Racing with HMD
  15. (20) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., Bitnile.com Chevrolet/Ed Carpenter Racing
  16. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, Bitnile.com Chevrolet/Ed Carpenter Racing
  17. (23) Ryan Hunter-Reay-(W), Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  18. (24) Stefan Wilson, Sheffield, England, DRR Cusick CareKeepers Chevrolet/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  19. (26) Colton Herta, Valencia, Calif., Gainbridge Honda/Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian
  20. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Jupiter, Fla., AutoNation Honda/Andretti Autosport
  21. (28) Romain Grosjean, Geneva, Switzerland, DHL Honda/Andretti Autosport
  22. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Toronto, Canada, Sodexo Honda/Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport
  23. (30) Jack Harvey, Bassingham, England, Kustom Entertainment Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  24. (33) Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis, Ind., Bitnile.com Chevrolet/Ed Carpenter Racing
  25. (44) Katherine Legge, Guildford, England, Hendrickson Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  26. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Hedensted, Denmark, Hy-Vee Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  27. (50) R.C. Enerson-(R), New Port Richey, Fla., Abel Motorsports Chevrolet, Abel Motorsports
  28. (51) Sting Ray Robb-(R), Payette, Idaho, biohaven Honda/Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing
  29. (55) Benjamin Pedersen-(R), Copenhagen, Denmark, A.J. Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet/A.J. Foyt Enterprises
  30. (60) Simon Pagenaud-(W), Montmorillon, France, AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda/Meyer Shank Racing
  31. (66) Tony Kanaan-(W), Salvador, Brazil, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  32. (77) Callum Ilott, Cambridge, England, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet/Juncos Hollinger Racing
  33. (78) Agustin Canapino-(R), Arrecifes, Argentina, Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet/Juncos Hollinger Racing
  34. (98) Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., KULR/Curb Honda/Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian

Note _ All cars use the fourth generation NTT IndyCar Series chassis (Dallara IR-12) with universal IR-18 aerodynamic bodywork, Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

(W) _Denotes Indianapolis 500 winner

(R) _ Denotes Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year candidate



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 Saturday, May 20 2023
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