HOUSTON -- In a weekend of surprises in INDYCAR's first visit, the home team provided the biggest "Wow."
Takuma Sato recorded a fast lap of 1 minute, .4535 seconds in the No. 14 ABC Supply car in Group 2 of qualifications for Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston to earn the Verizon P1 Award -- the first pole for A.J. Foyt Racing since July 1999 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Billy Boat). In April, Sato gave the team based in Waller, Texas, its first victory since 2002.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Houston native/resident A.J. Foyt, who scored his first Midget car victory on the Playland Park dirt oval (which was on the site of Reliant Park) and 50 years ago today won a USAC sprint car race from the pole at Williams Grove Speedway, is the grand marshal of the event and will present the race winner(s) the A.J. Foyt Trophy. Of course, he'd like to present it to Sato.
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“It's a great achievement for the team," said Sato, who picked up his first pole since Edmonton in 2011, when he was with KV Racing Technology. "(The car) feels pretty good. It's a new circuit and lot is going on with a different configuration to the track, but the boys did a good job and we put everything together.
"It means a lot. Particularly since it's Houston, where the team is based. It's A.J.'s first time at a race in a long, long time. He missed Long Beach and I'm very pleased to put everything together for him."
Foyt, who underwent hip replacement surgery July 1 and hasn't traveled to an event weekend since, said "it's great to be in your hometown and win the pole."
"I’m real happy and real thrilled. Just as long as we finish up first," he said.
The regular three rounds of qualifying, including the Firestone Fast Six, for road/street courses for Race 1 was changed to the 30-minute session -- two groups determined by draw for 12 minutes each of track time -- that is used for Race 2 of doubleheader weekends because of schedule shifts caused by a surface issue.
Crews worked overnight and into the morning to grind the area in Turn 1 that required a temporary chicane to slow cars on the 1.634-mile, 10-turn circuit in practice Oct. 4. The chicane was removed for a mid-morning IZOD IndyCar Series practice session and qualifying.
Drivers in Group 1 were at a disadvantage because of a nine-minute red flag for the clean up of debris after Tristan Vautier's No. 55 Angie's List car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports made right-rear contact with the barrier in Turn 10. They received one timed lap when the track went green.
Will Power (1:01.1524) was the fastest of group of 1 and will join Sato on the front row for the 90-lap race (3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).
“We literally had one lap on blacks and one laps on reds. We got the most out of it," said Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. "It’s good to start on the front row and that’s about it. Definitely a fair way to qualify, especially if it puts me on the grippy side of the track at the start."
Sebastien Bourdais was second fast in the session (1:01.4911) in the No. 7 Dragon Racing car. However, Bourdais, Dario Franchitti (fifth in Group 1) and Graham Rahal will receive a 10 grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change.
Championship points leader Helio Castroneves will start 21st -- his lowest of the season -- in the No. 3 Shell Pennzoil Team Penske car. Scott Dixon, who enters Race 1 49 points behind, qualified third in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
"I'm obviously very disappointed with the qualifying result," Castroneves said. "Hopefully we will make the best out of it and work our way forward in Race 1."
Race 1 will incorporate a standing start (the second of the season), while Race 2 (1 p.m. ET Oct. 6 on NBC Sports Network) will have a rolling start.