St Petersburg IndyCar: Sato grabs pole in delayed qualifying

Takuma Sato backed up his early weekend speed by charging to pole for Sunday's IndyCar's season-opener in a rain-delayed qualifying session in St Petersburg

St Petersburg IndyCar: Sato grabs pole in delayed qualifying

The AJ Foyt driver topped both of his preliminary qualifying stages on his way to the Fast Six, and then put pole beyond the reach of his rivals with a 1m01.8686s effort, nearly 0.3 seconds faster than closest threat Tony Kanaan.

"It's a fantastic day," Sato said. "You can't ask for a better start to the season."

One of the most impressive elements of Sato's performance was that he was one of three drivers to start the second phase on red tyres, with everyone else still on wets, yet while Ryan Briscoe and Mike Conway subsequently had their rubber go off when the track was at its best, Sato set fastest laps three times in the final five minutes.

While unable to match Sato's eventual pole lap, Kanaan said that he was pleased to get his Ganassi career off to a good start.

"It feels good not to see 17 cars in front of me at the start," he said. "I think it's three years since I made the Fast Six.

"Qualifying was a bit of a lottery I think - it was probably fun for the fans, but for us it was quite hard, so I'm happy."

Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power will share the second row ahead of reigning series champion Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti, giving engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda an even split of the top six.

Thunderstorms accompanied by a tornado warning caused the session to postponed by more than three hours, and meant that the drivers were faced with a wet but constantly drying track.

The changing conditions claimed a few early casualties: both Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe were stripped of their two fastest times in the first qualifying phase for spinning and causing red flags, although Hinchcliffe's consequent demotion from the top six paid dividends for Ryan Briscoe, who had gambled on staying out with a damaged wing and earned a progression to the next phase as his reward.

Also compromised by the early proliferation of reds was Sebastien Bourdais, who only managed to squeeze in one flying lap.

"Is that qualifying?" he said. "It's one lap. It's a joke. The conditions are fine. If we're going to go qualifying, we need to have a fair shot. And we didn't."

Juan Pablo Montoya's single-seater return began quietly, with the Penske recruit admitting that he struggled to adapt to the conditions.

He was ninth at the end of the first phase, falling three spots short of progressing to the next session, and setting himself up to start from the rear half of the field.

"It is what it is," he said. "I haven't driven in the wet in a long time and we didn't have occasion to do it during testing. It sucks, but it is what it is."

 Pos Driver Team/Engine Time Gap  1. Takuma Sato Foyt/Honda 1m01.8686s 2. Tony Kanaan Ganassi/Chevy 1m02.1637s +0.2951s 3. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti/Honda 1m02.2167s +0.3481s 4. Will Power Penske/Chevy 1m02.3955s +0.5269s 5. Scott Dixon Ganassi/Chevy 1m02.4454s +0.5768s 6. Marco Andretti Andretti/Honda 1m02.9595s +1.0909s 7. Carlos Munoz Andretti/Honda 1m03.3955s Round 2 8. Jack Hawksworth Herta/Honda 1m03.5738s Round 2 9. Ryan Briscoe Ganassi/Chevy 1m03.6206s Round 2 10. Helio Castroneves Penske/Chevy 1m03.6635s Round 2 11. Sebastian Saavedra KV/Chevy 1m03.8374s Round 2 12. Mike Conway Carpenter/Chevy 1m03.9618s Round 2 13. Sebastien Bourdais KV/Chevy 1m15.8337s Group 1 14. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt/Honda 1m12.3741s Group 2 15. Mikhail Aleshin Schmidt/Honda 1m15.9111s Group 1 16. Justin Wilson Coyne/Honda 1m12.5890s Group 2 17. Carlos Huertas Coyne/Honda 1m16.8105s Group 1 18. Juan Pablo Montoya Penske/Chevy 1m12.6994s Group 2 19. James Hinchcliffe Andretti/Honda 1m17.0155s Group 1 20. Charlie Kimball Ganassi/Chevy 1m13.0048s Group 2 21. Graham Rahal Rahal/Honda 1m52.9601s Group 1 22. Josef Newgarden Fisher/Honda 1m13.1170s Group 2 


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