Takuma Sato battled the elements to claim his first Verizon P1 award of the season at the first Verizon IndyCar round in St Petersburg.
Clocking a time of 1:01.868 in his Honda powered A.J Foyt Racing Dallara, the session was delayed for more than three hours thanks to horrible weather surrounding the Florida airport track.
“Over the course of the winter, we did really extensive winter test program,” said Sato, who finished eighth at St. Pete last year. “Everything worked out really well. We had a strong package last year here, but obviously there are quite a few changes on the car: tires, twin turbo engine. To come this weekend, qualifying, very dramatic weather change as well. Very pleased the league and promoters make possible for the qualifying session this evening because otherwise I would have to start middle of the pack (based on final 2013 entrant points).”
Lining up behind the Japanese ace is Target Chip Ganassi’s debutant Tony Kanaan, who finished two tenths back on the Foyt car having set a time of 1:02.164.
“I think it has been like three years since I have been in the top six,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner. “It feels really good. I can’t thank the Target Chip Ganassi Racing guys enough. A lot of people made a lot of comments over the years because we struggled so much in qualifying on street and road courses and nobody was counting on that. I like to be the element of surprise. Nobody was talking about us at Indy last year and nobody was talking about this weekend.”
One returning CART star, Juan Pablo Montoya, did not have a day to remember finishing down in eighteenth place and failing during the first stint of qualifying but believes he will come strong in the 110 lap race: “The biggest problem for the No. 2 Team Penske Verizon Chevy was the last corner, for some reason. I just couldn’t come off that corner and get the car to turn. Sato was in front of me and I would lose everything to him right there. It is what it is. I haven’t driven in wet conditions in a long time and we never had an opportunity to do it in testing. I don’t think we’re that far off. I’m still getting acclimated back to the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
However, one man who should have a grin as big as F1 star Daniel Ricciardo is rookie Brit Jack Hawksworth. In his first IndyCar qualifying session for Bryan Herta Autosport in the #98 Honda, the Yorkshireman put the car on eighth spot – less than two seconds behind pole sitter Sato.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg takes place tonight at 8pm UK time and www.TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have a full report as soon as the race ends.