Sato steals Pocono pole; more heavy accidents pepper qualifying (VIDEO)

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Takuma Sato has won the pole for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 after a chaotic qualifying session for Round 14 of 17 in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, snatching the pole in the final opportunity.

Sato was the final car to run and knocked off then polesitter Simon Pagenaud with a two-lap average speed of 219.639 mph. Further, his lap 1 speed of 220.045 mph was the only lap above the 220 mph mark during qualifying.

An elated Sato was happy to achieve a noteworthy result at a track where has has struggled at times, with three finishes of 21st or worse in his four previous starts.

“I’m really happy. I always have enjoyed Pocono in the past years. I’ve had a difficult experience, but I’ve always enjoyed it. We haven’t had a win here yet and hopefully we can get that with Expedite Home Loans this weekend. That’s why putting down on pole here is something very special. Especially after Indy 500, coming to another 500 race, with entire crew from the No. 26 and Expedite Home Loans, who is family of Ruoff Home Mortgage, which was on our car for the Indy 500. The team did an outstanding job. I have to say big thank you to Michael (Andretti) and all Andretti Autosport. I am very happy,” Sato said after his run.

Charlie Kimball (219.369 mph) held the pole for most of the afternoon in his No. 83 Tresiba Honda, as the American was looking for his second pole of the year after winning the Verizon P1 Award at Texas Motor Speedway.

But Pagenaud (219.395 mph) eclipsed Kimball with just five cars to go, in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, to take over the top spot.

Pagenaud then had to hold off a trio of Andretti Autosport cars – Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato – to ensure he solidified his second pole of the year (Toronto). But it didn’t happen.

Andretti fell off the map on his second lap and fell to 15th.

Hunter-Reay, who led this morning’s lone practice session, had an even worse ending with a heavy accident in Turn 3. He lost the back end through Turn 3 in his No. 28 DHL Honda and needed help from the Holmatro Safety Team to get into the medical car, as he exited his car gingerly. Further updates on his status will follow later today, although as of 3:10 p.m. ET, INDYCAR issued he was being transported to a nearby hospital.

Then Sato dropped the fastest two lap average of the day in the No. 26 Expedite Home Loans Honda for Andretti Autosport, with the fastest single lap at 220.045 and an average at 219.639 mph.

Two other big names will start from the back of the grid. Helio Castroneves had an accident in qualifying in Turn 1, and was unable to finish his run, while Ed Carpenter didn’t get to make a qualifying attempt as his car was a few minutes too late into technical inspection following an accident in practice earlier in the morning.

Beyond the top three, Tony Kanaan and Will Power completed the top five, Gabby Chaves impressed mightily in eighth for Harding Racing and both Dale Coyne Racing cars outqualified championship leader Josef Newgarden, who fought understeer and only lines up 14th.

Results are below.

RESULTS

LONG POND, Pennsylvania – Qualifying Saturday for the ABC Supply 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, and speed:

1. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 219.639 mph
2. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 219.395 mph
3. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 219.369    mph
4. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 219.012 mph
5. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 218.688 mph
6. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 218.622    mph
7. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 218.099 mph
8. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 218.020 mph
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 217.819 mph
10. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 217.748 mph
11. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 217.565 mph
12. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 217.556 mph
13. (18) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 217.292 mph
14. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 217.235 mph
15. (7) Sebastian Saavedra, Honda, 216.943 mph
16. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 216.801    mph
17. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 215.964 mph
18. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 215.115 mph
19. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 214.988 mph
20. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, no speed
21. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, no speed
22. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, no speed

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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