Qualifying Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM  April 23, 2016—Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you. After feeling pretty satisfied yesterday, the ABC Supply team felt equally disappointed after this afternoon’s qualifying session at Barber Motorsports Park.

Jack Hawksworth, who will start 14th in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda, posted a lap of 1 minute, 7.2360 seconds, which was .0117 of a second shy of transferring to the next segment.

“We just missed out—it’s pretty frustrating to miss by just a hundredth,” Hawksworth said. “I wish I could have extracted just a bit more from the lap when it’s that close. It was a tricky day overall because the track temperature seems to have such an effect on the performance of the car. We rolled out the cars this morning pretty similar to where we left last night and found the car to be too loose. To compensate for that, which wasn’t the right thing to do in hindsight because in the end with the reds and the track conditions in the afternoon, even though the temp went up, the balance seemed to go back to where it was last night. So we ended up with understeer. It’s frustrating because the basis of the car was pretty good. Very disappointed but we’ll go again tomorrow. It’s a long race, a lot can happen.”

Sato will start 16th in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda after posting a lap just .0025 of a second slower than his teammate.

“Having had a successful day yesterday, we looked over the data and thought we made the car faster this morning but the different track conditions [hotter] made for a different balance,” Sato explained afterwards. “It seems to be very narrow and very delicate [the sweet spot in the car’s setup] so we lost the edge and didn’t like the balance. Going into qualifying, it was a little bit unknown. The car came back some but we needed a little bit more speed. We lost by such a little bit because it was so tight, two hundredths of a second. It’s a shame but we have another warmup in the morning to get it right for the race.”

Sato and Hawksworth were both in the second group of first round qualifiers. It is more desirable to have each car in a different group so they don’t have to compete against each other to transfer to the next segment. The groups were determined by this morning’s practice session: cars that finished in odd-numbered positions comprise one group and the cars that finished in even-numbered positions comprise the other group. Hawksworth and Sato were 11th and 13th respectively in practice 3.

The quickest driver in practice 3 determines if his group goes out first or second, and since the track is usually faster in the second group, the driver usually chooses that option which is what this morning’s pacesetter Scott Dixon did. Unfortunately, those who don’t transfer from group 2 make up the outside row which is why Hawksworth and Sato will start 14th and 16th.

Simon Pagenaud won the pole with his time of 1 minute, 6.72 seconds lap. He led a contingent of Chevy-powered drivers who locked in the top-five starting slots: Will Power, Joseph Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais. Graham Rahal rounded out the Firestone Fast Six in his Honda-powered car.

The race will be televised on the NBC Sports Network starting at 3 p.m. ET.

 

Practice Report:  Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM April 22, 2016—Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth delivered a one-two punch in practice today as they topped the 21-car field posting the fastest times overall at Barber Motorsports Park, the beautiful but challenging 2.3-mile road course outside of Birmingham.

Sato clocked a lap time of 1 minute, 7.2157 seconds for a speed of 123.186mph, while Hawksworth was within four-thousandths of a second of that time and a speed of 123.178mph--a testament to the team’s preparation of the ABC Supply Hondas. It was the first time since becoming a two-car team last year that they were one-two in a session of any kind.

“Nice day for our ABC Supply team,” said Larry Foyt, president of AJ Foyt Racing. “We have to really focus on keeping the cars towards the front for qualifying as it’s so important for the race here, but it is a nice feeling to see the speed displayed by the team and drivers today.”

Honda-powered cars claimed four of the top six spots - James Hinchcliffe was third and Graham Rahal was sixth. Chevy-powered cars driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power were fourth and fifth overall.

"It's been a very good day for the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team,” said Sato. “There's been good preparation--this is not the result of just one single day. It was the winter testing and especially the last test here because the weather was warmer than usual and that gave us a good foundation and understanding of the car. We had a few races since then and gained an even better understanding. The engineering department did a tremendous job, working in so much detail and bringing everything together. The car and the Honda engine are working really well.”

Although clearly enjoying the moment, he cautioned, “It's only a test day, but it's a great feeling because the competition level is so high and we are on top of the game today. We'll go through the data and look for where we can improve. In qualifying the red tire could behave differently, so all is not perfect but I think we learned a lot and it's been very positive."

Hawksworth too was smiling after the session. He was second quickest in both sessions.

“It’s been a really good day,” the 25-year-old Brit said. “We were quick in practice 1 and quick in practice 2 so it shows the consistency of the ABC Supply Honda. Takuma was P-5 and P-1 so we were in the top-five both sessions which is a good practice day in terms of speed. The feeling of the car was really good and we found some stuff right at the end of the day which we were really happy with. We’ll sit down tonight and go through everything with the guys and try to execute in qualifying tomorrow. Hopefully we’ve ironed out our issues and we can put a really strong day together tomorrow and continue this. We need a good third practice, go out in qualifying and give it the beans and hopefully put it near the front.”

The teams have a 45-minute morning practice. At 4:00 p.m. ET, the Firestone Fast Six qualifying rounds will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network, which will also broadcast the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Sunday afternoon starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Notes & Quotes: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Takuma Sato: No. 14 ABC Supply Honda

Jack Hawksworth: No. 41 ABC Supply Honda

TAKUMA SATO ON:

Barber Motorsports Park: "Barber is an impressive road course that I always enjoy driving. The track has many challenging high-speed corners and it flows beautifully. I also enjoy the great support from fans who are really enthusiastic for motor racing and just the nice overall atmosphere. The museum is truly impressive too!  I look forward to being back there!"

The momentum going into Barber: “We are carrying good momentum from the productive Barber test and of course the Long Beach race. It’s very important to build a confidence and good atmosphere for the whole team and certainly these two events have done that. I’m quite excited to do this busy back-to-back racing.”

The test at Barber: “It was not too long ago and wasn’t super cold like the previous year's open test, so this year’s test results are quite relevant for this week’s race preparation. It was our first time to use the revised 2016 Honda aero package on the road course and we learned a lot. Now we have a better understanding of it and as a result we have more experiment test items we need to go through the early part of race weekend.”

The best place to pass: “Not many places in Barber, but it will be at T5 hairpin.”

His favorite sculpture or artwork around the track: “They are all interesting… and I probably haven’t seen or found them all because some are hidden. We can’t really see them from the race car or let’s put it this way that we just don’t see them. However, when we go for a track walk with the engineers before the race weekend, we see them; some are quite funny and some are actually scary! If I need to pick the one I like, it could be a big man trying to push the wall… it’s almost like I want to say “Oi! What are you doing there, sir?” It’s quite funny actually.”

His favorite food in Alabama (ribs? cornbread? okra?):  “I love OKRA. We have lots of them in Japan but I haven’t had it in Alabama so now that’s one of my missions; I want to find it this weekend.”

What he enjoys most about the track’s museum: “I enjoy it a lot! The whole museum is like a jewelry box! Great architecture and everything is so beautifully laid out. Each machine is so dedicated and it all looks to be in great condition. Amazingly, I believe most of them are runnable so that’s very impressive.”

Driving or flying there? “It’s our tradition for a few years now that my manager [Steve Fusek], his wife [Sue] and I drive down together from Indianapolis. I usually ‘book my seat’ called 1-C, which is a comfortable, air-conditioned, reclining leather seat with drink and food service from the lovely Cabin Attendant [Sue]. It even has free Wi-Fi available! It is because of the first class service that I enjoy this journey a lot.” The Fuseks have dubbed Takuma “The gentleman in 1-C.”

JACK HAWKSWORTH ON:

Barber Motorsports Park: "Barber is a great track that really flows well. The high speed corners and elevation changes make it a lot of fun to drive. I have won there in the ladder series and always enjoy coming back."

The Barber test: “We had a very good test. We were able to test many items and expand our knowledge base of this tricky circuit. The pace of the car was very good all day and I think we finally have a good understanding of where we need to be setup-wise for this track. The test conditions were pretty warm as well so hopefully this should translate to the race weekend conditions.”

What is more important there -- mechanical grip or aero: “Mechanical grip is always crucial wherever you go. Having said that, Barber has many fast sweeping corners where the car is creating a lot of downforce. In all honesty they are both married to one another and finding the correct balance between mechanical grip and the aero platform is very important.”

His favorite sculpture/artwork around the track: “I have to say as beautiful as the place is, I have never really paid too much attention to the artwork. I believe there is a spider somewhere? Yes I'll go with the spider.”

Working with Daniele Cucchiaroni as your race engineer: “Daniele was my performance engineer at Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and also at the start of this year. He joined AJ Foyt Racing at the same time as me. He is exceptionally talented and bleeds racing. We have a very good relationship and I always knew he would engineer my car at some point. I just didn't expect it to be so soon! I'm looking forward to the weekend and starting our season in Barber.”

His favorite food from that area: “California Pizza Grill and Panera Bread?”

The track's museum: “Yes, the museum is incredible. Some fantastic racing bikes and cars are on display. Every time I leave I can't help but wonder how much the collection is worth!”

Daniele Cucchiaroni is promoted to race engineer: Cucchiaroni, who worked as the performance engineer on Takuma Sato’s car last year, moved over to Hawksworth’s No. 41 ABC Supply Honda for the 2016 season. Following the release of Hawksworth’s race engineer Dan Hobbs after the Long Beach Grand Prix, Cucchiaroni was elevated to race engineer starting with this weekend’s race. The 35-year-old engineer, of Spoleto, Italy, is in his third year of IndyCar racing. Prior to coming to the U.S., Cucchiaroni was a race engineer on the European GP2 circuit. He earned his 2nd Level degree (akin to a PhD) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Perugia in Italy.

Past Performance at Barber: Takuma Sato’s best start is 6th (2010) and his best finish is 13th (2014). Jack Hawksworth’s best start in two races was 19th (2015) and his best finish was 12th (2014). AJ Foyt Racing’s best start and finish—fourth and seventh respectively—came in 2012 with driver Mike Conway.

Last race: At Long Beach, Takuma Sato started eighth and finished fifth for his first top-five finish of the season. He is now sixth in the Verizon IndyCar standings.  Jack Hawksworth started 20th and finished 21st.

Vote for A.J. Today through 12 noon ET, Thursday, April 21

Who is the best driver in Indianapolis 500 Mile Race history? Fans now have the opportunity to vote for theirs in the “Champions of the 500” bracket challenge.

Sixteen of the greatest Indianapolis 500 winners – legendary names ranging from Shaw to Montoya, Vukovich to Franchitti – have been selected to square off in a digital voting platform that begins at noon ET today and runs through May 23, leading to the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 29.

Fans can vote for their #Champsofthe500 every hour during the contest by visiting ims.com/champsofthe500, and are encouraged to tout their votes by using the hashtag #Champsofthe500 in Facebook and Twitter posts. The voting contest runs in conjunction with Legends Day Honoring Champions of the 500 presented by Firestone at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28.

The Round of 16 features a pair of bracket showdowns running three days each and concluding April 30. The eight winners by popular vote advance to the quarterfinal round, with the semifinals and championship round to follow.

The opening bracket matchups feature four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt going against two-time winner and reigning champion Juan Pablo Montoya, and back-to-back winner Bill Vukovich paired against three-time victor Wilbur Shaw. Voting for these bracket pairings is underway now through noon ET April 21.

The next first-round showdowns running April 21-24 feature all three-time Indianapolis 500 winners. Helio Castroneves goes against Louis Meyer and Mauri Rose takes on Bobby Unser.

The challenge from April 24-27 sees four-time winner Al Unser against his friend and 1963 winner Parnelli Jones. Also, two-time winner Al Unser Jr. goes up against three-time champion Johnny Rutherford.

The final two first-round matchups April 27-30 find four-time winner Rick Mears taking on two-time champ and fan favorite Dan Wheldon, as well as 1969 winner Mario Andretti going head-to-head with three-time victor Dario Franchitti.

The voting period for each matchup begins at noon ET on the designated start day and ends at noon ET on the designated end day. Again, votes may be cast each hour.

Show your pride and vote for your #Champsofthe500.

#Champsofthe500 First-Round Pairings:

April 18-21: A.J. Foyt vs. Juan Pablo Montoya; Bill Vukovich vs. Wilbur Shaw

April 21-24: Helio Castroneves vs. Louis Meyer; Mauri Rose vs. Bobby Unser

April 24-27: Al Unser vs. Parnelli Jones; Al Unser Jr. vs. Johnny Rutherford

April 27-30: Rick Mears vs. Dan Wheldon; Mario Andretti vs. Dario Franchitti

Note: Voting begins and ends at noon ET on the designated days; driver receiving the most votes in each pairing advances to the quarterfinal round to follow. Vote at ims.com/champsofthe500.