Takuma Sato

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – In seven Verizon IndyCar Series races at Barber Motorsports Park, Takuma Sato has qualified in the top 10 but once and never finished the race better than 13th.

So, the newcomer to Andretti Autosport was predictably upbeat after setting the pace in the morning practice of today’s open test on the picturesque 2.3-mile road course. Sato’s best lap of the three-hour session was 1 minute, 8.1705 seconds (121.460 mph), tops among the 22 drivers participating in the test that comes a month ahead of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race weekend.

“Very smooth and very good so far,” said Sato, whose lone Verizon IndyCar Series win came at Long Beach in 2013. “This is only testing but it’s good to be back at Barber. I love this place. It just so flows with speed. Today is almost like race day; it’s very warm, which is very, very good for us.”

BARBER OPEN TEST: Practice 1 results

Tony Kanaan was second fastest in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda (1:08.2163, 121.379 mph), just ahead of two-time Barber race winner Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:08.2997, 121.230 mph). Scott Dixon was fourth in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (1:08.3340, 121.170 mph). The open test concludes with another practice from 3-6 p.m. ET, with live timing and scoring available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Defending Barber race winner and 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud was seventh overall and the second-fastest Chevy in the No. 1 Team Penske car (1:08.4264, 121.006 mph).

Sato joined Andretti Autosport in 2017 after spending his previous seven Verizon IndyCar Series seasons driving for KV Racing Technology, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and AJ Foyt Racing. The 40-year-old from Tokyo feels he is meshing well with his new surroundings.

“It’s more time with the boys and the engineers,” Sato said from inside the team’s engineering transporter. “In fact, this engineering truck, the first time we use it is this week. It’s a good bunch of people together and our communication is deeper and deeper, so it’s good.

“We need to go through a number of the test items to replicate for the race weekend. Hopefully we can be as good for the race weekend. So far we are dividing a lot of the (test) program between the four cars and I’m pretty happy. Everything is progressing nicely.”

A total of 647 laps were completed in the session, whose lone incident came in Turn 6 when Spencer Pigot spun in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet to bring out a red flag.

Take some laps around Barber Motorsports Park with Alexander Rossi below: