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Sato’s Speedy May Continues at Indy 500 Practice

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 20 2022

Scott Dixon leads a line of cars through a turn during practice at Indianapolis on Thursday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin/Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Former Indianapolis 500 champions Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon returned to the top of the speed chart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday, as practice for the race’s 106th edition resumed after rain washed-out Wednesday’s scheduled six-hour session. 

Two-time Indy 500 winner Sato was P1 at 227.519 mph in the No. 51 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. Dixon, a six-time NTT IndyCar Series champ and 2008 Indy 500 winner, was second-fast at 227.335 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“We’re working on it,” said Sato, a 45-year-old native of Tokyo. “The car’s not entirely happy in a big pack. Still there’s work to be done. The boys are doing such a meticulous job, with great engineering. I’m happy with the progress, step-by-step, and here we are. Hopefully we have more to come.”

“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 Coyne’s organization in the offseason.

Rookie David Malukas, Sato’s teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, was third at 226.869 mph in the No. 18 Honda. JR Hildebrand, the star-crossed 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, clocked in fourth at 226.846 mph in the No. 11 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

Takuma Sato has had reason to smile at Indy this week.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson continued his impressive preparation for his first start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by placing fifth at 226.409 mph in the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson was third-fastest overall on opening day Tuesday. Johnson finished sixth in his open-wheel/oval-track debut in the XPEL 375 on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway layout in Fort Worth on March 20.

Weather figures to be top-of-mind for the 33 teams and drivers during practice from noon-6 p.m. (ET) Friday (live on Peacock Premium). Air temperatures forecast for the mid- to high-80s and sustained winds of 15 to 25 mph will create tricky conditions on the 2.5-mile oval.

Speeds also will climb on “Fast Friday” _ the last full day of practice before PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday and Sunday. Turbocharger boost levels will be increased from 1.3 bar to 1.5 bar, adding an estimated 90 horsepower to the Chevrolet and Honda V-6 engines.

Teams will focus on qualifying simulations Friday, trying to stay out of the aerodynamic tow that has produced the biggest speeds of the first two days of practice.

Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner, was the fastest driver Thursday without a tow at 224.325 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “Yeah pretty, pretty good day,” said Power, the 2014 series champion and native of Australia. “Just doing qualifying simulations obviously at the lower power level. Everything’s going to be more difficult tomorrow, when the boost gets turned up. Quite a bit more horsepower so we will be heading into the corner 10 mph faster. It’s going to be more windy and hotter. So definitely going to be tough, but I think we found a good place to start.”

Rinus VeeKay and his team boss, Ed Carpenter, also continued to show strength while running solo, placing second and third on the “no-tow list” after they were 1-2 without aerodynamic help Tuesday. VeeKay, a native of The Netherlands, produced a solo lap of 224.047 mph in the No. 21 Chevrolet, followed by Carpenter at 223.858 mph in the No. 33 Chevrolet.

“Rinus doesn’t need much advice anymore. He figured this place out quick,” Carpenter said of his 21-year-old protégé. “I think moreso than anyplace we go, I think he got comfortable in the way he drives and the feel that he has. It really suits him well here. He pulls his weight for sure, and I’ll still give him some things, like going into Turn 1 today on a cool-down lap or Turn 3 and send it like four-wide around the top, and I’m like, ‘Hey, dude, they’ve got warm-up lanes, let’s use them.’ No big deal.”

A hometown favorite as the series’ only owner/driver, Carpenter said he completed two qualifying sims of four laps/10 miles. “Feel like we’re in a decent spot,” said Carpenter, 41, the Indy 500 pole-winner in 2013 and 2014. “But again, a lot of people haven’t shown their hand just yet. I don’t think Ganassi has really shown anything. Someone else, McLaren I don’t think did any Q sims either today. So there’s some big hitters that still are concealing what they can do.

“It’s always been a good fight with Chevrolet and Honda. I think it’s kind of a toss-up in race trim. It’s hard to really tell if anyone really has an advantage one way or the other, and by tomorrow night I think we’ll maybe have a little bit of an idea if one manufacturer has the upper hand for qualifying or not, but it seems tight.”

All 33 drivers officially entered combined to turn 3,114 incident-free laps under overcast skies. Johnson racked-up 153 laps, more than any driver.

The 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is scheduled to take he green flag on Sunday, May 29, at 12:45 p.m.

(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 Friday, May 20 2022
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