ST. PETERSBURG – After ending the 2014 season with three top-six finishes in the final five races, Takuma Sato carried whatever possible momentum from that finish possible into the opening qualifying session of 2015 with a fifth place effort in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda.
Sato, the 2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg polesitter, wasn’t quite able to match that feat in Saturday’s session.
However, in a similarly impressive performance, Sato upheld Honda’s honor as the manufacturer’s only representative in the Firestone Fast Six. He qualified fifth, for his first top-five start of 2015 after banking a total of four during the 2014 season.
“Well, I think it’s pretty important for us to be in the Fast Six,” said Sato. “The last two seasons, this track is very kind to me, being able to putting a good result in qualifying. Today it wasn’t like that way.
“As I said, obviously congrats to the Team Penske with the dominance over the qualifying,” he added. “Particularly well done for Will.”
What was frustrating to him though was that new teammate Jack Hawksworth was unable to match his pace in qualifying, after showing decently well during practice. Sato noted an issue, but praised the Larry Foyt-led team’s efforts to expand back to a full-time two-car effort.
“I’m very proud of the team, particularly from a one-car team to a two-car team,” Sato said. “Really the team worked hard to put everything together.
“Jack had a little issue today. But we gathered really good data from yesterday and made a significant improvement over the first practice session. So I think it was good.”
Sato has a decent record at St. Petersburg, with fifth (2011), eighth (2013) and seventh (2014) place finishes on his resume.
He stands the best chance, after qualifying anyway, of delivering a podium finish for Honda in the first race with the new manufacturer aero kits.
Behind Sato, it doesn’t look great for Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay slots in eighth, with Simona de Silvestro and Marco Andretti the next best placed Hondas in 11th and 12th.