Takuma Sato prevailed after an intense early evening qualifying session to claim the pole for tomorrow night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The 42-year-old Japanese driver wheeled his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda to a two-lap average of 220.250mph – just enough to keep the top spot away from defending race winner Scott Dixon (220.162 mph).
“It’s been a great weekend,” said Sato, who also finished second in both practice sessions.
“Here in Texas, it’s kind of dreaming about it, be on pole. I have been saying that to the guys, that this is an iconic track in the IndyCar Series — high banking, very fast, passing. You never know ’til the very last lap.
“You see, Graham Rahal won by one corner or something from (James) Hinchcliffe a couple of years ago. Really, maybe at the end of the day, the front row here is safer. Obviously, you can control the race, which is the biggest part. But for the end result tomorrow night, it will be a completely different scenario.
“To be on pole is great, but at this track you can do .. anything is possible, [even] from the back row.
“The team gave us unbelievable speed of the car. Just a phenomenal feeling to go that fast through the corners. In fact, I was keeping on the lower side of the range. [The] car’s working extremely well. Huge credit to the engineering side, and my engineer, Eddie Jones. I was very happy for the boys, too.”
For Sato, who sits fifth in the NTT IndyCar Series championship standings, it’s the second pole of the 2019 season. He turned his first one into a victory at Barber Motorsports Park back in April.
Third was the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda of Sebastien Bourdais, who will start alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda.
Honda locked out the top two rows for Saturday night’s 248-lap race on the 1.5-mile superspeedway, but the Chevys weren’t far off and there were six different teams represented in the top six starting spots. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud qualified fifth at 219.355 mph to provide a spark for Team Penske and Chevrolet. The 35-year-old Frenchman has certainly become comfortable at the high banks of TMS, having finished third in 2017 and second a year ago.
“I think for everybody, when you show up here, it’s a bit of a head rush when you go through the banking there,” said Pagenaud. “The cars are really fast, and even in race runs, in long runs, it’s very physical.
I think we’ve got a really good race car. I’m pretty happy with it. I feel comfortable. I feel happy – the happiest I’ve ever been, and it helps me being an even better driver and make better decisions. I got to get back in my groove after Indy. Certainly, Detroit wasn’t at the level I wanted it to be. Understandable, but I think we’re back in our groove.”
Additionally, Spencer Pigot posted a respectable sixth in the No. 21 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.
The top rookie in the 22-car field will be Colton Herta, who qualified 10th. The session was “disappointing” for Alexander Rossi, who will start 11th.
The only incident of the session belonged to the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, Tony Kanaan brushing the Turn 2 wall and failing to record a time. He will start last.
“The car just wouldn’t turn and shot up the track, which ended with me brushing the wall,” he said. “We need to go back and look at the data to find out what happened. Tomorrow will be a long night for us if we don’t get this figured out for the race.”