Foyt Cars Show Muscle In Alabama

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 23 2016
Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt Racing showed major strength on Friday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt Racing showed major strength on Friday at Barber Motorsports Park.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth delivered a well-timed, one-two punch for team-owner and Indy car icon A.J. Foyt Jr. Friday, topping the 21-car Verizon IndyCar Series field during practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

bugindycarSato clocked a lap time of 1 minute, 7.2157-seconds at 123.186 mph, less than a half-second off the track record set in 2013 by four-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Hawksworth, meanwhile, was within four-thousandths of a second of Sato’s time at 1:07.2197-seconds and 123.178 mph after two sessions around Barber Motorsports Park’s 2.38-mile/17-turn layout in Birmingham, Ala.

It was the first time since becoming a two-car operation last year that Foyt’s Hondas placed one-two during a session of any kind.

“Nice day for our ABC Supply team,” said Larry Foyt, president of Foyt Racing, A.J.’s son and Sato’s race strategist. “We had a good test here in (March) and we felt like we’d be decent, so it’s nice. The hard work over the winter seems to be translating. You’ve still got to qualify, but that was a great day. To have both cars up there is what we want. We have to really focus on keeping the cars towards the front for qualifying as it’s so important for the race here.”

Honda-powered cars claimed four of the top six spots _ James Hinchcliffe was third and Graham Rahal placed sixth. Chevy-powered cars driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power were fourth and fifth overall.

“This is not the result of just one single day,” said Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply car. “It was the winter testing and especially the last test here because the weather was warmer than usual and that gave us a good foundation and understanding of the car. We had a few races since then and gained an even better understanding. The engineering department did a tremendous job, working in so much detail and bringing everything together.

“It’s only a test day, but it’s a great feeling because the competition level is so high and we are on top of the game today. We’ll go through the data and look for where we can improve. In qualifying the red (Firestone) tire could behave differently, so all is not perfect. But I think we learned a lot and it’s been very positive.”

Hawksworth also was upbeat after running second-fast during both sessions.

“It’s been a really good day,” said Hawksworth, driver of the No. 41 Honda. “The feeling of the car was really good and we found some stuff right at the end of the day which we were really happy with. We’ll sit down tonight and go through everything with the guys and try to execute in qualifying (Saturday). Hopefully we’ve ironed-out our issues and we can put a really strong day together and continue this. We need a good third practice, go out in qualifying and give it the beans and hopefully put it near the front.”

Hawksworth is working this weekend with a new lead race engineer, Daniele Cucchiaroni, who served as Sato’s performance engineer in 2015. Cucchiaroni was Hawksworth’s performance engineer in his rookie season in 2014 with Bryan Herta Autosport before both joined Foyt’s Texas-based organization last year.

“I say he’s a new engineer; I’ve worked with him for the past three seasons,” said Hawksworth, a 25-year-old native of Great Britain. “He was my performance engineer at Bryan Herta Autosport, and then when I moved to A.J. Foyt he came with me and was the performance engineer on Takuma’s car last year. But I obviously still had a very close relationship with him. This season he was working on my car as the performance engineer. Very clever guy.

“I always knew he was going to end up engineering my car at some point or another in the future; I didn’t realize it was going to be quite this soon. We have a good relationship and I think it’s a good dynamic. Hopefully we can go prove that this weekend.”

Hawksworth’s best finish in the first three races of 2016 has been 11th in the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. , followed by 19th at Phoenix International Raceway and 21st on the Streets of Long Beach last Sunday. Those disappointing results, Hawksworth said, have come despite strong practice sessions at all three venues.

It’s just bibs-and-bobs which we’ve stumbled…we’ve tripped ourselves up on occasion, and that’s really what’s hurt us,” Hawksworth said. “You know, I don’t want to make any predictions for this weekend because I’ve thought each race this year we’re been pretty impressed _ OK, this is going to be a good weekend _ and then it’s all gone down the pan. But I feel like we should be good, and no reason why not. So we’ve just got to not shoot ourselves in the foot and have a good weekend.

I love this place. It’s one of the few tracks we go to where you really get a sense of what an Indy car can do in terms of performance of the car. We go to street circuits, ovals, very different techniques, various different driving styles and tricky things you have to do to be quick.

“But when you come to this track, just from an enjoyment perspective, I think you get more out of it than anywhere else just on the basis that you’re going through these big undulations and elevation changes, fast corners, and it’s just so much fun. You realize how much grip these cars have got, and you get other cars around this track, it’s a lot of fun.”

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the fourth of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud is the current championship leader with a 14-point advantage over Dixon.

A native of Tokyo, Sato sits sixth in the championship standings after a fifth-place finish at Long Beach, where he won in 2013 during his debut season with the team owned by the elder Foyt, first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. The team’s elder statesman at 39, Sato said he is enjoying a “healthy competition” with Hawksworth.

Jack and I, it’s usually trying to work as a team,” Sato said. “That’s the first priority and at the end of the day, he’s a racing driver so he doesn’t want to be beaten, and so do I. But I think, as I said, it’s a healthy condition, like other teams, too. So we are happy.”

Hinchcliffe ran third in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry at 1:07.2455-seconds and 123.131 mph to give Honda the top three cars on the speed chart. All three fast laps were set in the afternoon practice on a drying track following a torrential downpour between sessions.

“It was a solid first day for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Once again, the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car was pretty strong off the truck and we were hoping for that. We had a good test here back in February and we were hoping that was going to transfer over.”

Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing Chevrolet, led that manufacturer’s camp with a lap of 1:07.3399-seconds and 122.958 mph established in the morning practice. Will Power rounded-out the combined top-five with a lap of 1:07.3434-seconds and 122.952 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

A third practice is set for noon-12:45 p.m. (EDT) Saturday (streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). It will be the final on-track activity prior to Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying at 4 p.m. Qualifying will be televised live on NBC Sports Network, which also will carry the 90-lap race Sunday at 3 p.m.  The race also will be broadcast on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Roger Penske, winningest car-owner in Indy car and Indianapolis 500 history, will be the honorary pace car driver in a unique version of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro SS 50th Anniversary Edition for the 100th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 29.

Team Penske, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has won a record 16 Indianapolis 500s dating to 1972. Penske celebrated his  179th Indy car win last Sunday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, with Simon Pagenaud driving a Chevrolet 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine and aero kit.

Four identically prepared Camaro SS pace cars will support the Indy 500, all with exclusive abalone white exteriors featuring “100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil” graphics on the doors and the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway wing-and-wheel logo on the quarter panels. They also incorporate the exterior cues and graphics that are unique to the Camaro 50th anniversary package that goes on sale this summer.

With 455 horsepower, the Camaro SS pace cars require no performance modifications to lead the racing field. It will mark the ninth time a Camaro has served as the Indy 500 pace car and the 27th time for Chevrolet, dating to 1948.

Tickets remain on sale for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road-course May 14 and the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. To purchase tickets, visit www.ims.com/tickets; call (800) 822-INDY or visit the IMS ticket office at 4790 W. 16th Street, Indianapolis, Ind., 46222, weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) for more information.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 23 2016
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