At age 42, Takuma Sato is certainly having a career resurgence. After winning only once in his first seven NTT IndyCar Series seasons, has tacked on three wins in his last 37 races, including capturing both the pole and the victory at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this season.
The 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner has three total podium finishes on the year and currently sits fifth in the season points, and Friday captured the pole for Saturday night’s DXC 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Sato became the first driver to repeat as a polesitter this season while posting a two-lap average speed of 220.250 mph.
Scott Dixon (220.162) will start alongside on the front row, with Sebastien Bourdais (219.746), Ryan Hunter-Reay (219.537) and Simon Pagenaud (219.355) rounding out the Top 5.
“Obviously, I’m challenging all the time,” Sato said, “but this time, of course, I’ve got great support from the team. Every time jump in the car, I still feel I developing, I still learning. Everything, really everything has come together. This year seems to be hooking up great speed, consistency, great race craft, too. Hopefully, this trend goes to the end of the season so I can challenge for the top three of the championship.”
Dixon, who crashed on his own for the first time in four years in Race 1 at Detroit last weekend, then followed up the next day by winning the race, missed the pole by just .02 seconds. Dixon will be making his 20th start at TMS Saturday, and the high-banked, 1.44-mile track has been very good to him, as he has won three times, including last year, and notched a total of eight podium finishes.
“It’s always nice to start on the front row. I think when you start there, you just wish you could have done a little bit better and got the pole, but not today,” Dixon said.”We’ve been chasing it this weekend. Obviously, the conditions (for qualifying) are a bit different than what we’ll see in the race, but I’m optimistic we have a good car and we’ll be ready to fight tomorrow.”
Dixon was very complimentary of Sato after qualifying, and he sees a difference in how he has been driving this season.
“I think Taku has always had tremendous speed, (and has the ability to ) pull it out of nowhere, which has always been fun to watch,” Dixon said. “I remember going to Barcelona for a Formula 1 test, watching him on track. I was amazed by his car control. He’s a big talent. He’s a smart guy. I think he’s excelled at a lot of different teams, too, which is not always the easiest thing to do.
“Yeah, we have seen his race craft (improve) a little bit. It is hard coming from Europe, I think the race craft is totally different. He’s definitely had to adjust, and I think he’s done a very good job of that.”
Some other thoughts from Texas:
Tires. Texas has always been about tires, and the quality of the race has really hinged on the performance of the Firestone kicks. Overall the drivers are happy with the package that Firestone has brought this year. The blistering issues that plagued last year’s race seemed to have gone away, the tires are lasting longer, and drivers seem to feel like the racing will be closer this year. Sato said that once it gets dark — during the second or third tire stint — the second line on the track should come to the drivers.
Honda vs. Chevy. Let’s talk about it again! Honda took the top four spots on the grid — Pagenaud is the first Chevy starting fifth — and seven of the Top 10. Pagenaud doesn’t seem all that concerned, saying he won the Indy 500 with a Chevy and is confident they have enough to win here. Overall the top 12 cars in the field were separated by about a half-second over the course of their two-lap runs.
Coming from the back. Several drivers who are in contention for the championship or are usually solid on ovals didn’t find enough speed in qualifying and will be starting in the midfield. Alexander Rossi, who is second in points behind Josef Newgarden (who starts P7), will go off 12th in the 22-car field, while Will Power, sixth in points and a two-time winner at Texas, will go off 15th. Ed Carpenter, who started in the middle of the front row at the Indy 500 and won here in 2014, will start 13th.
Pit Lane Parley
It’s Friday so a new episode of PLP is out for your listening pleasure. In this week’s episode, Host Mike, Jess and Matt recap Detroit, preview Texas and talk about some other IndyCar news. You can listen to it here.
Photo credit: Me