Takuma Sato on Pole at Barber

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had themselves quite a day on Saturday. The two-car team swept the front row during qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Takuma Sato earned his eighth career pole, and his first ever on a permanent road course. Teammate Graham Rahal held the top spot until the final minute of the Firestone Fast Six, when Sato put in a blazing lap at 1:08.5934 seconds around Barber Motorsports Park.

Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe will share Row 2 on Sunday. Dixon has finished on the podium in seven of his nine races here, but has never won or even qualified on the front row. He is one of two drivers to have completed every lap at Barber. Sebastien Bourdais and Spencer Pigot rounded out the top six on Saturday. It was the first Firestone Fast Six for Pigot, who led the way for Chevrolet. It also tied his career-best qualifying effort, which came last year at Indianapolis.

Qualification Results for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Aside from Dixon, the “big three” teams struggled in qualifying. Team Penske failed to advance to the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in five years, as Will Power qualified 7th, Simon Pagenaud 14th, and Josef Newgarden 16th respectively. Newgarden has won three of the last four races here, and has four consecutive podium finishes at Barber. This was only the second time in ten years that Power failed to qualify on the front row.

Andretti Autosport was also left scratching their heads on Saturday. Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay saw their seven-race streaks of making the Firestone Fast Six come to an end, as they will start 8th and 11th tomorrow. Marco Andretti qualified 13th, and Zach Veach 23rd. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist was unable to match Dixon’s performance, and the Rookie will start the race from 17th position tomorrow.

This is the first front row sweep for Bobby Rahal’s team since the 2005 race at Chicagoland Speedway. Graham admitted a slight mistake may have cost him the pole, but he was happy for the team’s success on Saturday. “Honestly, I threw it away in Turn 5. I accidentally knocked her down a gear so I hurt myself a little bit. But I’m super excited for Takuma, I think this team has done a tremendous job in the off-season. We’ve heard all about how we can’t do it, we’re not competitive, and all this stuff, and it adds fuel to the fire.”

Matheus Leist will start 15th tomorrow for AJ Foyt Racing, while teammate Tony Kanaan starts 19th. It’s been another rough start to the season for the Foyt team, and Kanaan’s history at Barber hasn’t been kind. In nine starts at Barber, the Brazilian has never finished inside the top five, or even led a lap. Patricio O’Ward and Marcus Ericsson will also have their work cut out for them on Sunday, as they start near the rear of the field.

The race distance is 90 laps, which is 207 miles around the 2.3-mile 17-turn permanent road course. Newgarden is the defending race winner, and started on pole in last year’s race.

Coverage for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 4 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “We gave it all we had in the Fitzgerald USA Chevrolet, but we just didn’t have enough to advance. We are kind of scratching our heads as to why, but we just didn’t have enough speed overall to move on. I have all the confidence in the world in our Team Penske guys to figure it out. This is why you have a great team. We’ll work on it tonight and we’ll come back tomorrow and be ready to go in the race.”

MATHEUS LEIST: “We just finished qualifying here at Barber. I think we had a great qualifying. We finished eighth in our group, so we’re probably going to be starting around 15th or 17th tomorrow, so looking forward to it. I think from where we started the weekend on Friday, we definitely already made some progress. We still have a warmup to go tomorrow before the race and looking forward to doing a great job here again. ”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: “Fourth is the worst we’ve been all weekend, which is a crazy thing to say. In one sense, we’re obviously thankful for that. The Arrow car has been great right off the truck. Honestly, I feel bad for the guys because we had a really strong car and I made a mistake in that first run in (the Firestone Fast Six), and that was our better set of tires. We put the good ones on first and tried to just do one and done and I screwed up coming out of Turn 17. I’m going to be kicking myself on that one for a while because I know it cost us a good shot at pole. We can race from the second row. The Arrow guys have been great in the pits all year long, and it is a long race here at Barber. We just need to keep our heads down, be smart in the race and hopefully make up for it.”

MARCUS ERICSSON: “It was not a great session, obviously. We were out in (Round 1) again, so that was very disappointing. The Arrow car felt quite good, but we are not quick enough to transfer so we need to dig into that. Again, we know we have a good race car; we’ve shown that all year. You just have to trust in that, but obviously, we will be starting further back than we would’ve liked. Big thanks to the Arrow guys for rebuilding the car after the incident in P3. They did a great job to get the car back together and ready for qualifying.”

SCOTT DIXON: “It was OK, but we were always chasing the number one spot considering practices and just how the car felt. The team made a few changes over the night to make it a little more drivable and somewhere we could get some more out of. And even in the warmer conditions in the afternoon, which we really struggled with yesterday, I think we got it. Starting third, I think we can definitely win from there. Great show for Honda, obviously a home race for them, so hopefully, we can get to that elusive top spot in Alabama with the PNC Bank car.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST: “It wasn’t what we expected in the NTT DATA car today. It’s kind of been a difficult weekend so far. Going on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) in qualifying felt OK and it looked like we wouldn’t have a tough time to make it through because I think I was P7 or P8 already, then. And then on the reds (Firestone alternate tires), I improved my time, but I think the others improved more. It didn’t really feel that bad, I was quite happy with the car, but still, it wasn’t quick, so we’ll have to analyze tonight and see.”

WILL POWER: “I aborted the lap because I pushed wide in Turn 17, but I shouldn’t have. When I think about it, you’re only a tenth down on the eight-five (1:08.5) I did. If I just would have done an eight-seven, I would have been fine. That was my bad. We struggled all weekend. It’s a tough track to pass on, so it would have been nice to start in the Firestone Fast Six. There are some good guys out there and we’re going to have to work harder to beat them in the Verizon Chevy. It’s been a tough weekend with some of the practice sessions being so short. We’ll have a good think about it for the race and see what we can come up with.”

TONY KANAAN: “The struggles continue. We are trying to improve. It was a very difficult race for us here last year. The field is much closer today and we feel like we’re closer, but it doesn’t translate to the position on track, so we still have a lot of work to do for tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL: “Well, I think overall, we got a little bit better everywhere. The one sector (where we were losing time yesterday) might still be a little bit not perfect, I would say, maybe a little thorn in our side. But typically, I think the guys did a tremendous job today. This morning, our time and our finishing position, which ended up in the gravel, is not indicative of our pace and we felt that. Did we feel we had the front row locked out? Probably not. But the really good sign of this, I think, is that our cars are clearly pretty consistent with tire wear from first run to second run on those reds (Firestone alternate tires). I’m excited. I think we’re in a good position as we go forward. I think we’ve had good races here in the past, but we’ve never started anywhere near here. Hopefully, tomorrow can be a pretty straightforward, really strong day for us.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: “Overall, I’m pretty happy with fifth. I was happy the No. 18 SealMaster Honda made it into the Firestone Fast Six, but I am not happy that I couldn’t fight for the pole. It’s been very close all weekend. The conditions changed a lot and I’m just not getting a good feel for what the tires need.  We’ll keep trying and see what we can come up with for the race tomorrow.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI: “I can’t thank my No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing, David Yurman crew enough today. We’ve had a good car all weekend so far and it deserved to be in the Firestone Fast Six today. Unfortunately, I didn’t put the lap together at the end and we ended up P10. This crew has worked really hard and deserved an even better starting position, but that said, I’m confident we can have a really good race and move up the field when it really counts. I’m super excited for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama tomorrow.”

ED JONES: 
“Session to session, we have really struggled with getting anything to be consistent with the car. Qualifying was frustrating; around here it’s very difficult to pass, so it would have been much better to start further up. However, things can change for tomorrow’s race with strategy and maybe even the weather. We’ve got to do the best we can and make the best of every opportunity. We’ll push on from here.”

SPENCER PIGOT: 
“I am really happy with the Autogeek Chevrolet. We were really competitive there in the first two rounds, we were P1 and P2. In the Firestone Fast Six, we got the order wrong – we probably should have run our sticker blacks (Firestone primary tires) then our scuffed reds (Firestone alternate tires), but that’s alright. It’s a bit of data we can save for the future. We’re really happy to qualify up front, but also a little bit dejected to have not had more there at the end. Overall, we are coming away with a lot of positives. We are definitely looking good for tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD: “It was definitely a tough qualifying session with a lot of champions in that second group. I felt like I gave it everything I had there, but we’re talking like five-hundredths of a second to try to transfer to the next round. We didn’t leave anything on the table, so we have a little bit more work to do to be ready for the race. Everyone on the Menards Chevrolet team will be focused on getting everything right tomorrow to get a good result.”

ZACH VEACH: 
“It’s been a frustrating day. This morning we couldn’t get the balance right after putting on new brakes – we just lost the balance and had to jump right into qualifying. I don’t think we made the right choices for the car for the qualifying session. We struggled with some understeer and once we put on the reds (Firestone alternate tires), I think we even went slower. We’re all a bit confused as to why that happened – it’s something we need to look at tonight.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI: “It was a good effort all around by the team – I think we were all pretty good on blacks (Firestone primary tires). Unfortunately, we didn’t have a car balance quite sorted for reds (Firestone alternate tires). It’s disappointing that eighth is our best starting position here, so we’ll take some solace in that, but it’s disappointing to not transfer into the Firestone Fast Six.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: “We seemed to plateau from Practice 1 where we were fifth. The whole team has fallen in competitiveness as every session has gone on. So, unfortunately everyone is sitting right now in eighth, 11th and 13th. We don’t know the reason, we’re all scratching our heads. But, looking down pit lane, the usual top qualifiers didn’t advance to the Firestone Fast Six, except for (Scott) Dixon. We’ll look at it tonight. Historically, this has been a strong track for us and it’s way too complicated out there for us right now, but we’ll work to find a solution and fight hard for the DHL team.”

TAKUMA SATO: “This is a dream result. We don’t really care which (teammate) is first; obviously, I do care that I am in front of Graham (Rahal, teammate), but this team is working so hard and sometimes a lucky break comes, but today we did everything together. This is a team effort. I’m really happy for both. Black (Firestone primary) tires and red (Firestone alternate) tires had a similar performance yesterday, but today, clearly the red tire was the faster one. I actually did try the black tire in the Firestone Fast Six to try and go again faster, but obviously, the red tire was much faster and in the end I was very happy with my lap.”

PATRICIO O’WARD: 
“We just haven’t really figured out the balance of the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet. We worked on it with the blacks (Firestone primary tires), but we just couldn’t get it right with the reds (Firestone alternate tires). I’m really struggling with the reds for some reason. Either the front works and the rear doesn’t, or the rear does and front doesn’t – it’s just not a happy balance at all right now. We’re on pace with the blacks, but we just need to figure out how to make the reds work for us. At the end of the day, we’re just not where we want to be at all.”

MAX CHILTON: “Barber (Motorsports Park) is just proving how difficult and challenging it is. I felt pretty fired up for that one (lap), but I think I might’ve made a mistake in Turn 1. Around here, it’s so close and unless you give 100 percent, you’re not going to qualify up front, so I’m glad I gave it a big push and everything the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had. Patricio O’Ward and I are very similar in time, so I think we got as much as we could out of both of the Carlin Chevrolets. It was a bit of a weird day with none of the (Team) Penske or Andretti (Autosport) cars making it into the Firestone Fast Six, so I think it’s just one of those times that if the track suits your car you’ll be up front and if it doesn’t, you won’t.”

JACK HARVEY: “We’ve made it no secret that transferring to the top 12 in qualifying is one of our goals, not just for this weekend, but the whole season. We did that today. I am disappointed in myself for how the second round (of qualifying) went. We started the lap well, but I tried to be a hero in Turn 1 and went off a little. The potential that we have is good. If we can continue that potential when we get to the track on Fridays, we would be in an even stronger position. It’s been a good day, but disappointed on how it finished. We are capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six.”

COLTON HERTA: “Another solid qualifying by the No. 88 GESS International team today. We’re going to start ninth in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama tomorrow. It’s not terrible, but it’s not where we’d like to be. We’d like to be in the Firestone Fast Six. I know we had the speed and the car is fast, but it just didn’t work out for us. Unfortunately, we were so close and we just needed that little bit to get back in, but the field is so tight that we didn’t make it. We have great pace and I think we have good old tire pace, too, so after we look at everything during tomorrow’s warmup, we’ll be ready to race.”

MARCO ANDRETTI: “We were loose this morning and we moved into qualifying with a bit too much understeer. If we would’ve squeaked through, the rear was good enough that we would’ve had a pretty good margin to take out understeer. We missed the second round by four-hundredths (of a second) and we were under a tenth (of a second) behind (Alexander) Rossi. The field is so tight, and we were really hoping to secure a good starting position for the U.S. Concrete team, so it’s unfortunate that we just missed the second round.”

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