Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 28, 2015—Takuma Sato became the Honda standard bearer in qualifying today as he put his No. 14 ABC Supply Honda in the fifth starting slot for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Team Penske Chevrolets grabbed the first four spots in Firestone Fast Six qualifying with Will Power winning his fifth pole in the last six races here. Sato has been the only driver to unseat Power from the pole which he did last year with his pole-winning run in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda.

“To be in the Fast Six the past two seasons, well, this track is very kind to me and we’ve been able to put in a good result in qualifying although it wasn’t on the front row today,” said Sato in the post-qualifying press conference. He added, “Congratulations to Team Penske for their dominance of qualifying and in particular, Will [Power].

Power posted a time of 1:00.6931 which was fast enough to beat Sebastian Bourdais’ 2003 track record of 1:00.928 seconds. Sato posted a time of 1:01.1496 seconds.

Teammate Jack Hawksworth didn’t fare quite as well --his No. 41 ABC Supply Honda car sustained a problem today which the team is investigating and is working to solve it before tomorrow’s final warm-up session. Hawksworth will start 21st tomorrow.

"For some reason we were struggling under braking,” said a disappointed Hawksworth who was sixth in practice yesterday and the top performer in the Honda-powered camp.  He added, “The rear of the car was pretty loose and we didn't have any traction so we need to find out why. Obviously on the first day we had a pretty competitive car so we need to understand what's going on and come back better tomorrow. Fortunately we have the final warmup where we can validate what's going on."

Practice Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 27, 2015—The ABC Supply team is off to a solid start in St. Petersburg today with Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato putting the ABC Supply Hondas in the top half of the 24-car field. The drivers were on track for just one practice session with rain washing out the second session in the late afternoon.

Hawksworth posted a time of 1 minute, 1.8713 seconds which was the quickest of the Honda-powered cars and sixth fastest overall. Sato was 12th quickest at 1 minute, 2.1274 seconds and the third quickest Honda.

“We thought we weren’t going to get any running in today [because the forecast was for rain], so it was nice to get on track and get some driving in,” said Hawksworth, who is making his debut this weekend in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda. “I think we started off quite strong and the baseline of the car seems pretty good, so I’m quite excited to see what we can do tomorrow. Compared to last year’s car, we see a lot more grip so we can brake later and carry a little bit more speed through the corners. The practice times were faster than qualifying last year so that shows you how much grip the cars are generating this year.”

“It’s great to be back in St. Pete,” said Sato, who won the Verizon P-1 Pole Award last year with a time of 1 minute, 1.8668 seconds in his No. 14 ABC Supply Honda. “We waited for so long over the winter. The past two weeks we went testing to prepare for this event. The car worked pretty well the first session but we need to adjust more for the new aero and increased downforce. The lap times are already as quick as last year’s qualifying. It’s going to be a lot faster tomorrow and I’m looking forward to having a good practice before qualifying. Hopefully, in qualifying we’ll be strong.”

Eclipsing Sato’s pole-winning time was Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power who posted a time of 1 minute, 1.4709 seconds in his Chevy-powered car.

There will be a 45-minute practice at 12:30 p.m. ET tomorrow. Qualifying begins at 4:15 p.m. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be televised live on ABC Sunday afternoon starting at 3 p.m. ET.


Notes & Quotes: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Takuma Sato: No. 14 ABC Supply Honda
Jack Hawksworth: No. 41 ABC Supply Honda


Honda Aero kit: “What I like most about the Honda aero kit is that it’s fast! There are so many configurations you can make to achieve the downforce level for various conditions and track characteristics.  It’s not an easy to optimize, but I believe the package could be very competitive when we can. And it looks very aggressive and impressive."

Having a teammate: “It doubled the data we were collecting, and that helped a lot. We can divide different programs in the same track conditions at the same time so we can analyze them back-to-back with quality data. We’re able to move forward faster.”

Key to his qualifying well at St. Pete: “I just naturally feel good about St. Pete. In 2013, the tire’s characteristic was quite different from the previous year but we were able to find a good balance very quickly and that was why we were quick. Last year, it was a tricky condition from damp track to drying for every segment of qualifying but I was able to commit every timed lap, so it was a quite special moment when we got the Pole. Hopefully we can repeat another front row start!"

First race in seven months, what must he be aware of? “Well that’s always tough to predict, but it is an exciting moment too. Anything could happen so you just have to be extra cautious but otherwise it’s great to back racing! I just can’t wait to go to the first race.”

New season ahead of him: “New season, new car and new driver line-up, so there is plenty of excitement. We don’t know how the racing will be with two different aero packages this year, but it looks extremely competitive based on the Open Test so it will be a lot fun! We’re now a two-car team and the ABC Supply team did good preparation over the winter. It will be great challenge, but we are in much better shape than last year. I’m ready and really looking forward to this season.”


Biggest change he felt in Honda aero kit vs. Dallara: “We have a lot more downforce than last year which means the braking has improved substantially and the minimum corner speeds are up a little. In terms of set-up there have been some changes in philosophy and this has been a very interesting challenge for the whole team.”

New aero kit’s effect on driving style: “I don't believe it has changed the driving style too much compared to last year. It's just possible to attack the corner entry a little more.”

New team working as anticipated? “I think we have a really good set of guys and there is a good chemistry in the team. I'm certainly happy with where the car is at and the potential we have. Of course, there have been some growing pains with expanding to two cars and getting a completely new group of people together, but that's to be expected.  I'm sure we are going to go from strength to strength the more time we have.”

Aside from winning, a successful season opener would be: “A strong qualifying performance to confirm the ABC Supply car’s speed, so I think making the Firestone Fast 6 is a good target. In the race we need to be clean, consistent, and mistake-free on track and in the pits. If we accomplish this, the result will be good.”

The positives of St. Petersburg: “The track is a lot of fun and pretty technical, especially the middle sector. It's a track I have won at twice in Star Mazda and in Indy Lights so it has always been good to me! Couple that with the great weather and it's certainly one of my favorite events. I also lived in St. Pete during my first year in the States, so I know the city quite well and really enjoy going back there. It's a great place to kick off the season.”

A.J. Foyt will be watching from his home in Houston this weekend. Foyt is not planning to return to the IndyCar paddock until the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. He did take in the team’s first test with the new aero kit March 14th, flying in and out to NOLA Motorsports Park, but has no plans to attend the race at this time. "I want to be sure I'm healed up in time for Indy, that is my goal," said Foyt. This year AJ Foyt Racing will be in its 50th year of operation, making it the longest operating team in the Verizon IndyCar Series...by far!

“Front Row Sato” Since joining the ABC Supply team, Takuma Sato has qualified on the front row at St. Petersburg. He was second to Scott Dixon in 2013 and he won the pole in tricky track conditions in 2014. He is working to keep that record intact with another strong qualifying run this year.