Sato Rides Tow To Fastest Lap in 500 Practice No. 1

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 18 2022

Takuma Sato had the fastest lap as practice began on Tuesday for the 2022 Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato shared top billing with open-wheel/oval-track rookie Jimmie Johnson during Tuesday’s first day of practice for the 106th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Aided by an aerodynamic tow, Sato posted a hot lap of 228.939 mph during the final five minutes of practice around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We had a big tow,” said Sato, driver of the No. 51 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. “In Happy Hour, if you have new tires, I think you can do that. I’m pretty happy today.

“To be honest, this morning wasn’t as smooth as we wished. We had to go back to the garage and check up on lots of things because there was something we were not very happy with. But in the end, in the afternoon we quickly turned on good speed. I’m very happy with the No. 51 car. Dale Coyne Racing did a good job.”

A 45-year-old native of Tokyo, “Taku” won the 101st edition of the Indy 500 in May 2017 for Andretti Autosport to become the first Japanese driver to do so. Sato won the COVID-19 delayed 104th edition of the race in August 2020 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Sato completed a five-year run with the team founded by 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal in 2021, joining DCR in the offseason.

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon _ the 2008 Indy 500 winner _ was second-fast at 227.768 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. A 41-year-old native of New Zealand, Dixon paced four Ganassi drivers in the top six.

Former NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson had a good day at Indy on Tuesday.

Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, began prepping for his first Indy 500 start with the third-fastest lap at 227.722 mph in the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson was an IndyCar Series rookie last season, competing only on the road and street courses. The native Californian made his INDYCAR oval debut March 20 on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5.-mile layout in Fort Worth with a solid, sixth-place finish.

“We have a really good race car,” Johnson said. “It’s just trying to work through extremes for me. What is a low-trim setting? What’s a high-trim setting? What’s mechanically tight? What’s mechanically free? Just trying to work through some of those big-picture things.

“All in all, a really good day. I feel like where we ended in this session gives me a lot of confidence for working forward.”

Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson was fourth at 227.094 mph in the No. 8 Ganassi Racing Honda, with Rinus VeeKay of The Netherlands rounding out the top five at 226.995 mph in the No. 21 Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.

Reigning series champion Alex Palou of Spain completed Ganassi’s domination of the speed chart, placing sixth at 226.973 mph in the No. 10 Honda.

Veteran practice was divided into two sessions, with two hours of running time in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Dixon was fastest out of the box Tuesday morning at 227.119 mph.

VeeKay was the fastest driver without an aerodynamic tow, posting a top solo lap of 221.551 mph. Owner/driver Ed Carpenter was second on the no-tow list at 220.869 mph in the No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet, with Johnson third at 220.724.

Thirty-three drivers combined to turn 3,229 incident-free laps under sunny skies during the two veteran practices. Englishman Stefan Wilson completed his refresher test during a midday session in the No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet and then participated briefly in the afternoon open practice.

The No. 25 Dallara/Chevrolet that filled-out the race’s traditional 33-car lineup was supplied by A.J. Foyt Enterprises after it was driven by series rookie Tatiana Calderon of Colombia in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix on the IMS Road-Course as the No. 11 Foyt Chevy. The chassis has been mechanically converted and re-wrapped into Wilson’s No. 25 Speedway car.

“First off, the car looks absolutely phenomenal,” said entrepreneur Don Cusick, who founded Cusick Motorsports in 2021. “The crews at AJ Foyt Racing and DragonSpeed have done an incredible job to put the car together in such a short amount of time and we’re excited to get on-track. And it’s fantastic to bring CarBlip and 181 Fremont Residences onboard, two companies that are leading the way in their respective fields and will be a perfect fit within our group of partners.”

Wilson’s resume includes three Indianapolis 500 starts, Indy Lights race wins, the 2007 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award and top-10 finishes in IMSA’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring with Cusick Motorsports in 2022.

Native Canadian Dalton Kellett turned 149 laps in the No. 4 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, more than any other driver.

Practice is scheduled to resume from noon-6 p.m. (ET) Wednesday (live on Peacock Premium), with PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying booked for Saturday and Sunday. The 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.

(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 (1997) 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 and Ford Racing).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 18 2022
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