Sato Has Up-And-Down Day At Iowa Speedway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 25 2011

Takuma Sato was a happy winner of the pole for the IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway Friday. He was not happy later in the day. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Takuma Sato earned his first career IZOD IndyCar Series pole Friday afternoon at Iowa Speedway, where the buzz accompanying the Japanese native’s historic two-lap run was muted by a crash during the final practice for Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 250.

Sato became the first Japanese driver to qualify on-pole for an IndyCar Series event with a two-lap average speed of 180.375 mph around the 0.875-mile oval in Newton, Iowa. But Sato’s KV Racing Technology – Lotus crew was forced into an evening of overtime repairs when Sato’s No. 5 Dallara/Honda was involved in an accident in the final practice with the car driven by Alex Tagliani.

Both Sato and Tagliani, however, fared better than Simona De Silvestro. The popular Swiss driver was not cleared to drive after exhibiting symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, and will remain parked for the weekend.

Tagliani, pole-sitter for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500, didn’t hide his disappointment after the crash with Sato.

“I’m upset for the boys because it’s going to be a lot of work,” said Tagliani, driver of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Dallara/Honda fielded by Sam Schmidt Motorsports. “We had a very racy car in the session. We were making good improvements and running side-by-side early-on so I felt comfortable racing with (Sato). I was on the outside for a couple of laps early-on and then we did some pit stops. Then I was on the bottom. I felt like (Sato) crossed down into the bottom lane and my right front touched his left rear. And that’s a situation where the two cars are not clear. You really have to give room when you are out there.”

Sato, whose previous best series start was third at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season,

Simona de Silvestro will not be allowed to race this weekend.

predictably felt he was not at fault. “I was approaching on the outside at a much greater closing speed because I think (Tagliani) was just coming out of the pits,” said Sato, a 34-year-old native of Tokyo. “I was running in the second lane and gave space, but unfortunately we were very close together and we touched. I didn’t want it (to happen) this way during practice. Hopefully Alex’s car is OK, and mine is OK, too.”

Earlier, Sato was ecstatic after scoring his first PEAK Performance Pole Award in his 26th start. “I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to the whole team, the fans, the sponsors and everyone who has supported me,” said Sato, who is in his second season of driving for team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven. “It is a fantastic achievement. I knew we were going to be competitive because of last year and this morning I was truly comfortable in the car. I could feel where we needed to be with the setup for qualifying.

“Working so closely today with the three KVRT – Lotus drivers, working so closely with my engineers, we had a great answer. The mechanics also did a great job preparing the car. I am very pleased with today’s result.”

Ironically, Sato came into the IndyCar Series as a road-racing specialist, having competed in four Formula One races with Super Aguri F1 and having tested for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008. Sato’s pole is the third for the Vasser/Kalkhoven organization. Vasser qualified on-pole at The Milwaukee Mile in 2005 and Tristan Gommendy won the pole in 2007 at Mont Tremblant in a Champ Car World Series event.

Sato’s accident overshadowed Danica Patrick’s first front row start of the season. Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport, averaged 180.210 mph to nail down P2.

“It feels really good to have the car in position to be able to guard up-front and have the opportunity for a solid race day,” said Patrick, who earned her first front-row start since 2008 at Nashville Superspeedway. “On short tracks like this it’s nice to start near the front because you can gain ground more quickly. If you start near the back of the field you could be a lap behind very quickly. I haven’t started on the front row in a long time so it’s a good feeling.”

Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology – Lotus (179.833 mph) and rookie JR Hildebrand of National

Danica Patrick will start the Iowa Corn 250 from the front row.

Guard Panther Racing (179.569 mph) will share Row 2. Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, earned his best qualifying effort of 2011 in the No. 82 GEICO Dallara/Honda. Hildebrand’s fourth also is a season-high starting position in the No. 4 Dallara/Honda. His previous best start was 11th in Race 1 of the Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Team Penske’s Will Power and Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing will continue their battle for the championship from Row 3 after both posted speeds of 179.474 mph. Power and Franchitti, who between them have won the last three series events, are tied for the lead at 271 points. The difference in their two-lap qualifying runs Friday was 0.0001-seconds.

“After the struggles we had last week in qualifying, we’re just feeling good to be starting somewhere close to the front,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Honda. “The car was OK today in qualifying but what’s important here is to be good for the race. We need to go back and talk to the engineers and probably make a few adjustments tonight before the race. We finished top-five here last year and we need to make sure we have another strong result.”

A three-time winner this season, Franchitti was subdued after his effort in the No. 10 Suave Dallara/Honda. “The balance wasn’t good and we struggled with both ends of the car,” said Franchitti, the three-time/reigning series champion. “I don’t think it was as bad as Scott’s (teammate Dixon) but I think both our cars just missed it in qualifying. We’ll be better.”

Dixon qualified his No. 9 Dallara/Honda 23rd, tying his career low and marking the first time the two-time series champion has started outside the top-three at Iowa Speedway. The only other time Dixon qualified 23rd was in 2001 at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway for Bruce McCaw in a Reynard/Toyota in Champ Car. However, Dixon went on to lead 36 laps and win the race _ the first of his career.

Meanwhile, De Silvestro will spend the weekend as a spectator following an evaluation by Dr. Michael Olinger, INDYCAR’s medical director. De Silvestro, 22, crashed last Friday at The Milwaukee Mile but was cleared to drive Sunday morning in West Allis, Wis., following a neurological exam. After completing 11 laps in her No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Dallara/Honda, De Silvestro returned to the track’s care center reporting post-concussion symptoms.

To be cleared to drive after a concussion, a driver must pass the IMPACT Test and INDYCAR Medical evaluation. De Silvestro passed the IMPACT Test on Wednesday but still was exhibiting post-concussion symptoms when evaluated by INDYCAR Medical personnel on Friday in Newton. Indianapolis-based HVM Racing later withdrew from Saturday night’s race. De Silvestro will be re-evaluated at Toronto, site of Round 10 on July 10.

The Iowa Corn Indy 250 will be telecast live tonight in High Definition at 8 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race also will air live on the IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 94 and www.indycar.com.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 25 2011
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