ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Takuma Sato's first season with A.J. Foyt Racing started with a front-row qualifying spot on the streets of St. Petersburg followed by a victory at Long Beach and runner-up finish in Brazil. He was leading the 2013 championship standings heading into the Indianapolis 500, but the second half of the season didn't replicate the promise of the first half.
The veteran driver from Tokyo and team director Larry Foyt didn't call for a reset; just a stronger focus on details and race craft. Both were pleased with the initial results March 27 as Sato topped the time chart in the second practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a best lap of 1 minute, 2.5615 seconds. Driving the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply car, he was third in the morning session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit.
‘I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track," said Sato, who has a best finish of fifth in four previous races. "The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well and we made good progress during this session. Let’s hope this continues and we will work on speed for (qualifying)."
Click it: Practice 2 results || Combined practice results
Sebastien Bourdais holds the track record of 1:00.928 in qualifying for the 2003 race sanctioned by CART. The three rounds of qualifications are scheduled for 2 p.m. (ET) March 29, with live Timing & Scoring augmented by Paul Page and the IMS Radio Network's broadcast on www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 14 app.
Click it: Qualifying groups
Graham Rahal in the No. 15 National Guard car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second quick (1:02.6122) and Will Power, who has earned the pole in each of the past four years, was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car (1:02.6443). Teammate Helio Castroneves, a three-time winner of the race, was fourth and Simon Pagenaud was fifth in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car.
Five Hondas and an equal number of Chevrolet-powered cars occupied the top 10. The top 19 cars were separated by less than a second.
Rahal, whose victory at St. Petersburg in '08 made him the youngest winner in Indy car history, won the pole the following March.
“Overall, for our first day out I think it was a great day," he said. "For us to be that competitive right off the bat feels awesome. I have to say most of all I am proud of these National Guard guys because it was only 48, maybe 72 hours ago that we had a big trailer fire and our guys did an incredible job getting everything switched back over in Indy. It was a rush, it was absolutely a rush to get down here."
The crew was to have the day off, but everyone reported to the Brownsburg, Ind., headquarters by 6 a.m. to offer assistance.
"I am proud of them and as Dad said last night to them 'through adversity comes a team' and I think we have a great group of people and I think that is going to show this year," added Rahal, referring to team co-owner Bobby Rahal.
In the first session of the season, 2013 race winner James Hinchcliffe was quickest of the 22 drivers at 1:02.9326.
"That first session of the season is always something that everyone is excited about," said Hinchcliffe, who was seventh in the 45-minute afternoon session. "It worked well for us, but it's still early. Hopefully that means we’re on the right track for the weekend. We get so little track time and need to use every lap of testing and practice you get, so you can lollygag too much."
The victory was the first of Hinchcliffe's Verizon IndyCar Series career; he won two more during the season.
"It’s good to start the 2014 season with a good session. It show we did our job over the offseason," Hinchcliffe added. "The guys have been working very hard and it’s a good way to kick off our relationship with Honda and United Fiber & Data. I think the biggest thing (as the defending race winner) is just added attention. Whether you crashed in Turn 1 or won the race, you come in with the same mindset and that’s to do the best that you can. I’d love to get another surfboard. It looks pretty good in the living room."