Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

TSO NOTE: Sorry Foyt fans, this came in late, but we missed sending it!  Apologies!

Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

PETERSBURG, Fla. March 28, 2015—Takuma Sato became the Honda standard bearer in qualifying today as he put his No. 14 ABC Supply Honda in the fifth starting slot for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Team Penske Chevrolets grabbed the first four spots in Firestone Fast Six qualifying with Will Power winning his fifth pole in the last six races here. Sato has been the only driver to unseat Power from the pole which he did last year with his pole-winning run in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda.

“To be in the Fast Six the past two seasons, well, this track is very kind to me and we’ve been able to put in a good result in qualifying although it wasn’t on the front row today,” said Sato in the post-qualifying press conference. He added, “Congratulations to Team Penske for their dominance of qualifying and in particular, Will [Power].

Power posted a time of 1:00.6931 which was fast enough to beat Sebastian Bourdais’ 2003 track record of 1:00.928 seconds. Sato posted a time of 1:01.1496 seconds.

Teammate Jack Hawksworth didn’t fare quite as well –his No. 41 ABC Supply Honda car sustained a problem today which the team is investigating and is working to solve it before tomorrow’s final warm-up session. Hawksworth will start 21st tomorrow.

“For some reason we were struggling under braking,” said a disappointed Hawksworth who was sixth in practice yesterday and the top performer in the Honda-powered camp.  He added, “The rear of the car was pretty loose and we didn’t have any traction so we need to find out why. Obviously on the first day we had a pretty competitive car so we need to understand what’s going on and come back better tomorrow. Fortunately we have the final warmup where we can validate what’s going on.”

Sato credited having a teammate to helping improve his car after yesterday’s session.  “I’m very proud of our team, especially going from a one car team to a two car team, and the team worked hard to put everything together,” said Sato. “Jack had a little issue today but we gathered good data from yesterday and made a significant improvement in today’s practice session.

“The ABC Supply Team’s done a great job gathering data from the two cars and working together,” Sato said. He continued, “I was comfortable in today’s practice session so in qualifying I was able to push really hard. I’m really proud of what we’ve done as a team. Over the course of the winter they prepared to go from one car to two and that has definitely helped. Everyone did a great job.”

Power will be joined on the front row by his new teammate Simon Pagenaud. Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya are in Row 2, while Sato and Chevy-powered Sebastian Bourdais are in Row 3.

The teams will have a final warm-up session from 12:00 to 12:30. The race will be broadcast live on ABC-TV starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.