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Sato Destroys 200 mph Barrier During Indy Practice

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 21 2022

Takuma Sato squeezes into his Dale Coyne race car during practice Friday at Indy. He went on to set the pace. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDYCAR’s magical 230 mph barrier was battered during the traditional “Fast Friday” practice leading into qualifying for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato completed a sweep, in tricky conditions, of the week’s three practices around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But on the eve of qualifying, the oldest and youngest drivers in the 33-car field also emerged as contenders Saturday to lead the group of 12 advancing into the second and third rounds of qualifying Sunday, with a possible shot at the NTT P1 Award for pole.

Sato put up a lap of 232.789 mph in the No. 51 Honda during a simulated four-lap qualifying run in the last hour of the six-hour session. That lap was recorded in challenging conditions of air temperatures in the high 80s and steady winds of 20 mph, with gusts reaching 41 mph. It appeared “Taku” was headed to the fastest qualifying sim of the day before he was forced to lift on his third lap. The Japanese star still ended up fifth on the qualifying sim speed chart at 229.680 mph.

“We were lacking downforce on Lap 3 and dropped off on Lap 4,” said Sato, who is in his first season driving for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. “Lap 3 and Lap 4 are the key. We carried too little downforce.”

Sato, 45, 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.

Speediest driver in a four-lap qualifying sim was 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, at 47 the oldest driver in the field. The popular Brazilian averaged 230.517 mph in the No. 1 Ganassi Racing Honda in the final hour of practice, dropping Sato’s Dale Coyne teammate, rookie David Malukas, from atop the qualifying sim chart.

Indy rookie Jimmie Johnson got into a scrape at IMS on Friday.

Malukas, 20, youngest driver in the field, ended up second on the qualifying sim chart at 230.287 mph in the No. 18 Honda. Malukas is looking to become the first Indy 500 rookie to win the pole for the Indianapolis 500 since Teo Fabi in 1983.

“We divided the program so David had more downforce,” Sato said. “It’s good to have at both ends, and we’ll just combine it tomorrow.”

Speeds climbed Friday due to additional boost provided to the Chevrolet and Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines that power the field, with approximately 90 more horsepower. But all 33 drivers chose quality over quantity in the gusty, shifting winds and searing track temperatures, with just 473 total laps turned.

Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champ, was second-fastest overall at 231.883 mph in the No. 27 Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. Native Mexican Pato O’Ward was third at 231.798 mph in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and fourth on the qualifying sim list with a four-lap average of 230.111.

With the potential of rain in the forecast Saturday afternoon on the first day of qualifying, series officials have moved the start of time trials to 11 a.m. (ET). Qualifying will run until its previously scheduled end time of 5:50 p.m., weather permitting, with starting spots 13 through 33 locked in for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The morning practice session also will be moved up, with Group 1 on the 2.5-mile oval from 8:30-9 a.m. and Group 2 from 9-9:30 a.m.

O’Ward will be at the head of the line at 11 a.m. (ET) Saturday (live on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network), when the first round of qualifications starts, as Arrow McLaren SP pulled the No. 1 coin in the qualifying draw Friday evening. Positions 13-33 will be set Saturday, with the top-12 advancing to two rounds of qualifying Sunday to set the first four rows and determine the NTT P1 Award winner.

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden was fourth overall Friday at 231.782 mph in the No. 8 Ganassi Racing Honda, with 2008 Indy 500 winner and six-time series champion Scott Dixon rounding-out the top five at 231.530 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson became the first driver to make wall contact this week, grazing his No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda against the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 at 1:25 p.m. The team immediately went to work repairing the Dallara chassis, allowing Johnson to rally later in the day to produce a qualifying sim with a four-lap average speed of 229.094 mph, good for sixth on that chart.

“I’ve hit plenty of things during my career in racing,” said Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion in his second open-wheel campaign. “Luckily it wasn’t a full yard sale; it was just crossing the line a little bit. I was able to download with my teammates and get a better feel for positions with the tools inside the car. I was too cautious with my settings and had a lot of understeer in the car, and I just didn’t get on top of it quick enough.”

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.

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A revised qualifying format for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 will be on display during PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying Saturday and Sunday to set the field for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After Day One of qualifying from 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Day Two will include two rounds of qualification attempts to decide the first four rows, including pole position.

Starting in reverse order of speeds based on Day One, each of the top-12 drivers will have a guaranteed attempt to post a traditional four-lap/10-mile qualifying time starting at 4 p.m. The fastest six will advance to the Firestone Fast Six at 5:10 p.m. to determine positions one through six and compete for the NTT P1 Award for pole. The slowest six will fill out starting positions seven through 12 according to their recorded times.

In the Firestone Fast Six, each entrant is again guaranteed one attempt and will qualify in reverse order based on their Top-12 qualification results. The fastest wins pole position, which includes a $100,000 prize, with the remaining five drivers filling out the balance of the first two rows.

Championship points for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series will be awarded for those who advance to the Top- 12 qualifying session. The Indy 500 pole-winner will receive 12 points, the second-fastest will receive 11, and points awarded will decrease by one-point increments down to 12th-fastest (one point).

A Last Chance Qualifying session for spots 31-33 is scheduled from 2-3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, May 22, if there are more than 33 entries competing for a spot. Each entry is guaranteed one attempt and can make multiple attempts until time expires. If multiple attempts are made, previous times are withdrawn, and the fastest non-qualified car assumes the 33rd spot.

(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 Saturday, May 21 2022
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