Matt Fraver / IndyCar

Takuma Sato wins pole for Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

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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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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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