Sato wins IndyCar Pocono pole

Takuma Sato
Takuma Sato

With a two-lap average of 220.045 mph, Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato edged Simon Pagenaud to win pole position for tomorrow's ABC Supply Co. 500 at Pocono Raceway. It was the 7th career pole for the driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and second of 2017.

The Andretti Autosport driver put together two spine-tingling laps at 219.639 mph to earn the pole position for Sunday's 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile triangular oval. The ABC Supply 500 is the 14th of 17 races in the intensely competitive 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Sato was the final driver to make a qualifying attempt, going out just after teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed on the warmup lap before his own attempt. Sato, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, put aside any reservations to collect his second pole position of 2017 and the seventh of his eight-year Verizon IndyCar Series career.

"Yes, it made me nervous," Sato said. "Ryan and I share a lot of philosophy and setup. What happens to him is what could happen to me, too.

"Basically, (my) engineer just went through (as much) data as possible at that particular moment and we backed off a little bit (of) front wing to a little bit secure the rear. … I got a good feeling on that warmup lap and I couldn't believe it.

"Obviously, the engineers and guys did an incredible job. What an incredible achievement for Andretti Autosport."

Sato's run in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda knocked reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud from the top qualifying spot. Pagenaud settled for second in the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, with a two-lap averages of 219.395 mph.

"Almost. We were just a little short," Pagenaud said. "Actually, the DXC Technology Chevrolet was very enjoyable. The balance was perfect.

"Starting position here isn't quite what it is at some other places since the race is 500 miles. A lot of things can happen, but the good thing is that the car has good balance and worked well in traffic during the morning session. I think we'll have a good car for the race."

Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan locked up the second row in qualifying. Kimball was third in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda (219.369 mph), with Kanaan fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda (219.012 mph).

"I honestly didn't expect our run to be that good," Kimball said. "I'm really proud of that effort from the whole crew. Everyone from Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing really put their heads down between practice and qualifying and made some pretty significant changes that put us right there in the window."

Championship leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske qualified 14th in the No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet (217.235 mph). Newgarden leads teammate Helio Castroneves by seven points and Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon by eight points heading into Sunday's race.

Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay both got into the wall during their qualifying runs. Castroneves has been cleared to drive, while Hunter-Reay is still in the medical center. The Andretti Autosport driver is conscious and alert but reportedly complained of hip pain, and was limping after he got out of the car.

Earlier in the day Ed Jones spun but only damaged a front wing, but Ed Carpenter hit the Turn 3 wall hard.

As a result, Hunter-Reay, Carpenter and Castroneves failed to put in a qualifying time.

Carpenter Crash What was left of Castroneves' car

DRIVER QUOTES:

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): "Almost. We were just a little short. Actually, the DXC Technology Chevrolet was very enjoyable. The balance was perfect. Ben (Bretzman), my race engineer, and the whole crew have worked very hard on this car and it's great when that pays off. Starting position here isn't quite what it is at some other places since the race is 500 miles. A lot of things can happen. But the good thing is that the car has good balance and worked well in traffic during the morning session. I think we'll have a good car for the race. I'm definitely looking forward to it."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet):
"We had a decent run, but not what we were looking for. The No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits team is going to be working hard on the car to try and gain some more speed. We're going to try out a few things in the next practice session and see what happens."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "That's really disappointing. The Hitachi Chevrolet was good this morning and I really thought we had a chance. Certainly it (the crash) is a mistake, no question. With something like that, you should know a little bit better. But I'm not worried about where you start; the good news is it's 500 miles. Last year (Ryan) Hunter-Reay actually started last – probably where I'm going to start – and nearly won the race. It shows that if you have good balance, which we do, have a good team and everything, we should be able to overcome this obstacle. That's what I'm looking for."

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "We had a lot of understeer this morning, and now we have a lot of oversteer. I was basically driving off the right rear at the end of the last lap there in Turn 3. It was a little bit too sketchy for not a lot of speed, so we're still in the same position. The more and more laps we do here, the more and more stuff we find out about this car this car and how to run it, so we'll see. Carlos (Munoz) is really good here, which is really nice. He's had a lot of success here. I have his data to look at, for sure. I still have a lot to learn about this place myself, as well."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "The No. 5 Arrow Electronics car was pretty solid, so I wasn't having to do too much inside the car. This (Pocono Raceway) is one place where you end up working a lot with the tools just because both ends of the racetrack are so different. I think we maybe went a little bit conservative on the downforce for this afternoon… We had an electrical issue during our qualifying sim this morning so we didn't really get one. Not really sure what to expect out of the car and the track, so just maybe a bit conservative. It's a 500-mile race, and obviously this is a big, long racetrack and a place you can pass… We didn't want to risk it too much and break anything before tonight's practice because that's what matters – making sure the car is good in traffic."

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 7 Lucas Oil Honda): "I'm satisfied with our run knowing that there was a lot of unknowns for qualifying. To have only one practice session and then straight into qualifying, adding a bunch of downforce, it's not the most assuring for a driver (laughter). I have to give it to the team – they gave me the confidence, together with (James Hinchcliffe) Hinch, and we had a car that was able to commit. I guess we just didn't have it out there. I think we could have had added a bit more downforce as well, but we'll see what the data says. We gave it a try… tomorrow's race is what's most important."

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda):
"I just didn't get the laps we needed for whatever reason. I had a snowplow moment and was trying to do everything I could do to get our Gallagher car right. I was adjusting the car, but when you have to make that many adjustments in one lap, something is off. Luckily for us it's not terrible and it's a long race here at Pocono tomorrow. You can win from any spot on the grid."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda):
"We had the same problems we had this morning in practice where we just couldn't finish turn one correctly. But we had to go out first in qualifying and you just never know what you're going to get with the track and conditions. All in all it was an average run and qualifying isn't that important here with 500 miles ahead of you on Sunday. It's a long race and hopefully we can keep the NTT Data car up front when it counts."

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda):
"I'm pleased with our run – I think we were pretty competitive. That's the fastest we've gone all weekend, so I'm happy. I think the NTT car was really balanced and didn't have anything more for the setup we had. It's one of those things we did everything we could and left it all out there. I like qualifying sessions like that regardless of the outcome. It was a good one."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Qualifying was pretty good for the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team. We definitely were fast but a few cars definitely had a little more than us. We are going to work on the car a bit before the next practice and will spend the session trying to find more speed."

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "We had a mechanical problem. The car wouldn't downshift. For sure that cost us some time. It is what it is and we have to have a good car for the race. The race here at Pocono, I always love it. It's one of my favorite tracks. I've been doing well here. You just need a good car to be in the front. It would have been nice to be good. For sure we're going to have some work to do tomorrow."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Bobby Rahal Automotive Group Honda): "It was a good, solid run for us, but we're obviously very lucky because we had a pretty bad puncture. You can hear the air coming out from the puncture from here, it's so big. The car balance wasn't bad in Turn 3, but I noticed in Turn 1 that there was a lot of bottoming, which was upsetting the balance on entry. We have a right rear that's flat, so we're just lucky the tire didn't go and the car is in one piece. It looks like by the time I finished the run it was down six pounds on air. We didn't have the easiest run of it in the first practice, but we found some things that helped us late in the session. Now we can turn our attention to putting a good car on the track tomorrow and trying to get a win. This is an important race for us, a huge race for us in the championship."

ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ (No. 18 UNIFIN Honda):
"This was my first qualifying on a superspeedway, and after only a 75-minute practice, so it's been quite tricky to understand how to follow the grip level. It was also quite windy, so it was quite challenging on that side. I did my best. We were a bit on the conservative side, but still quite on the limit."

ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "I think qualifying around this track isn't one of the biggest factors for the race, as we've seen in the past. Going into the weekend our plan was always to run conservative in qualifying because there can be a lot of consequence for not a lot of gain in the long term of the race. As long as we're here in a decent position to start, we should be able to have a decent race car and able to race forward."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): (Crashed in Practice 1, did not qualify) "I don't know (what happened). The car had felt pretty good. Graham (Rahal) was coming in the pits in front of me and slowing up. I don't know, I maybe lifted a little bit for him slowing down to keep the gap and it may have shifted the balance. Frustrating, not the start that we wanted for the Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet, but we'll just have to rebound. It's early in the weekend and we can recover from it."

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "The car was kind of leaning in the direction of being handful on the warmup lap. I was trying to catch up to it with the tools in the car, but I got pretty close to just running out of adjustments. I just didn't feel like I was catching up to where I needed to be to be able to put in a number. After we came through on the first lap without it seeming to improve any, I just wanted to hang on to the car. We've cleaned up one car today and needed to keep this one in one piece. If this had been more of a short oval qualifying session where everyone was super close, you'd stay with it."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "I'm really happy. I always have enjoyed Pocono in the past years. I've had a difficult experience, but I've always enjoyed it. We haven't had a win here yet and hopefully we can get that with Expedite Home Loans this weekend. That's why putting down on pole here is something very special. Especially after Indy 500, coming to another 500 race, with entire crew from the No. 26 and Expedite Home Loans, who is family of Ruoff Home Mortgage, which was on our car for the Indy 500. The team did an outstanding job. I have to say big thank you to Michael (Andretti, team owner) and all Andretti Autosport. I am very happy."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda): "Unfortunately, I knew the incident with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) was going to happen. I almost crashed in Turn 2, which is supposed to be almost like a straightaway to us. Unfortunately, on the out lap my car basically told me that the run was over. I just had to nurse it home instead of trying. I almost crashed in the warmup lap and I wasn't even pushing. We missed it. Track (temperature) really affects our car, which is not great. The race is 500 miles, it is completely different. If we aren't going to be on pole, I don't really care where we start. We went for pole, so you can't really hate us for that, but we missed it bigger than we thought we were going to. Right now, just obviously hope that the Ryan (Hunter-Reay) is all right."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): "I honestly didn't expect our run to be that good. I'm really proud of that effort from the whole crew. Everyone from Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing really put their heads down between practice and qualifying and made some pretty significant changes that put us right there in the window. Having watched the 10 car run before us I knew the speed was there, we just had to go out and get it. Honestly I'm relieved with how much better the car was and I'm just really proud of my guys."

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): "That was good and I am certainly happy with the progress we've made. I came into this weekend with the team and we said we wanted to improve our qualifying. We've had pretty good race cars, and pretty good races. We want to be overall better. First way to do that was improve our qualifying and we did that this weekend."

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda): "I had a lot more understeer (in qualifying) than this morning in practice. I was prepared for it, but it really took off in Turn 1 on Lap 1, so I was actually fortunate to not be in a worse situation. Once we made adjustments inside the car everything was fine, so it was an opportunity missed for sure. At the end of my run, I think we had the fastest single lap, which is some sort of consolation prize. Right now, I think we are competitive. I had a feeling an Andretti Autosport car had a good shot at being on pole, and that's what happened. Thoughts are with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) right now and hope he gets the all clear to come back tomorrow. I know we have a fast race car, so we'll see what happens."

Sunday's race will be the 24th for Indy cars at Pocono Raceway dating to 1971. Live coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

RESULTS (2 Lap Average)

Pos No Name QSpeed Lap 1 Lap 2
1 26 Takuma Sato 219.639 220.045 219.235
2 1 Simon Pagenaud 219.395 219.347 219.443
3 83 Charlie Kimball 219.369 219.386 219.351
4 10 Tony Kanaan 219.012 218.899 219.125
5 12 Will Power 218.688 218.979 218.397
6 98 Alexander Rossi 218.622 217.588 219.666
7 15 Graham Rahal 218.099 218.252 217.947
8 88 Gabby Chaves 218.020 218.248 217.793
9 9 Scott Dixon 217.819 218.065 217.573
10 8 Max Chilton 217.748 218.386 217.113
11 19 Ed Jones 217.565 217.316 217.814
12 5 James Hinchcliffe 217.556 217.800 217.314
13 18 Esteban Gutierrez 217.292 217.728 216.858
14 2 Josef Newgarden 217.235 218.162 216.315
15 7 Sebastian Saavedra 216.943 217.115 216.771
16 27 Marco Andretti 216.801 217.622 215.986
17 4 Conor Daly 215.964 215.882 216.047
18 14 Carlos Munoz 215.115 215.121 215.109
19 21 JR Hildebrand 214.988 215.758 214.223
20 20 Ed Carpenter No Time No Time No Time
21 3 Helio Castroneves No Time No Time No Time
22 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay No Time No Time No Time

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