After a brutal stretch of races, A.J. Foyt Enterprises has a bit of home luck on what’s been a challenging weekend for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Takuma Sato scored his third career pole (2 in 2011 with KV Racing Technology) and first for Foyt’s team since 1999 at an Indy Racing League event in Atlanta with driver Billy Boat, in qualifying for the first race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Sato had the advantage of going in the second group – the first was shortened due to an accident by rookie Tristan Vautier – and laid down a flier of 1:00.4535 to capture the spot.
“It’s a great achievement for the team. The team has made huge strides. A.J. had to miss Long Beach where we got the first win. It’s been difficult of late. Team did a tremendous job and I was able to push,” Sato said.
Team director Larry Foyt added, “I think we won ‘happiest team winning a pole award.'”
And from A.J. Foyt: “It’s great to be in your hometown and win the pole, so I’m real happy and real thrilled. Just as long as we finish up first.”
Will Power led the first group, shortened by the incident, and will start second for Race 1.
“We literally had one lap on blacks and one lap on reds,” Power said.
“You’re running to the very left. I think they need to do a bit more grinding honestly. But we can race,” he added, regarding the new surface on the front straight and how to handle the “jump.”
The qualifying for Race 1 shifted from the Firestone Fast Six format to one that mirrored qualifying for Race 2 at the Detroit and Toronto doubleheaders. The field of 24 cars were split into two groups of 12, each getting 12 minutes of track time to set laps.
The rest of the grid was set by group order, with those in Sato’s group to start on the inside and Power’s on the outside.
Scott Dixon will start third in his quest to close the championship gap to Helio Castroneves. Sebastien Bourdais qualified fourth in pursuit of his third straight Houston race win.
Fifth through 10th in qualifying order are Simon Pagenaud, Simona de Silvestro, James Hinchcliffe, Luca Filippi, E.J. Viso and Dario Franchitti. Castroneves starts 22nd after a troubled session.
In Group 1, Vautier walled it exiting the left-handed Turn 10, which cost him his two fastest laps for causing a red flag. His fastest of 1:01.7544 had been second before the incident.
Group 1 ended, as it turned out, with only 5 minutes of green flag time. Group 2 had a full session with no major incidents. Ed Carpenter lost a piece of bodywork but other than that, nothing affected the session.
Bourdais, Franchitti and Rahal have 10-spot grid penalties coming for unapproved engine changes.
Both races will feature a standing start. It has not yet been determined whether races will have single file restarts, but it is under consideration.
IZOD IndyCar Series – Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Race 1
Unofficial Starting Lineup
78-Simona de Silvestro
55-Tristan Vautier (R)
*Denotes 10-spot grid penalty for unapproved engine change