Takuma Sato wins pole for Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Matt Fraver / IndyCar
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It will be an all-Rahal Letterman Lanigan front row tomorrow when the green flag waves for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park (4 pm E.T. Sunday on NBCSN).

Takuma Sato won the pole for the race after posting a lap time of 1 minute, 8.5934 seconds in the closing moments of the Firestone Fast Six. Sato’s teammate, Graham Rahal, will start second thanks to his time of 1 minute, 8.6971 seconds.

“This is a dream result”, Sato told NBCSN after winning his first pole since Pocono in 2017. “Today we got everything together. This is absolutely a team effort, so I am really happy with the whole team.”

“Black [primary] tires and red [alternate] tires had similar performance yesterday, but today, clearly the red tire was faster. I did actually try the black tire during the Fast 6 to see if I could go faster, but the red tire was much faster. In the end, I’m happy with my lap”.

Though Rahal was more than happy to start on the front row with his teammate, the driver of the No. 15 Honda believed he could’ve claimed the pole had he not made an error near the end of the Fast 6.

“…Honestly, I threw it away in Turn 5. I went into 5 and accidentally knocked it down into first gear instead of second. It cost me a lot on the entry, it cost a lot on the power down – it won’t put power down in first gear. I hurt myself a little bit, but overall, I’m super excited for Takuma,” Rahal told NBCSN.

“I think this team has done a tremendous job in the offseason. We’ve worked extremely hard, and we’ve heard all about how we can’t do it and we’re not competitive, and all this stuff. And it adds fuel to the fire. I’m really proud of our organization. It’s not necessarily a reflection of Takuma and I, it’s everybody else here that puts a lot of effort in to make our [car] go fast.”

Watch the race on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN or at NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app

Scott Dixon (1 minute, 8.8081 seconds) qualified in the third position, with James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais and Spencer Pigot rounding out the Fast 6.

Team Penske was uncharacteristically off-pace in qualifying, with no driver making the Fast Six. Will Power qualified seventh, his worst start at Barber since 2012. Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden fared even worse; Pagenaud  qualified 14th, and Newgarden, seeking his third consecutive win at Barber, qualified a disappointing 16th.

Click here for complete qualification results.

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.