LEEDS, Ala. – For the first time in 14 years, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing swept the front row for an NTT IndyCar Series race Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
It was Takuma Sato who scored his first pole since Pocono in 2017 and the eighth of his career aboard his RLL Racing Honda. His teammate, Graham Rahal, qualified second to give the team a sweep of the front row for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“This is absolutely a team effort,” Sato said. “To make it a 1-2, this is a dream result. The engineers work so hard along with the boys. Fantastic efforts. I’m really proud of them.
“I had done it on a street course but not a road course. I dreamed for ages to do this. Today, I think everything came together and I’m so thankful to the whole team.”
The last time team owner Bobby Rahal swept the front row of an NTT IndyCar Series race was in 2005 at Chicagoland Speedway. At the time his operation was known as Team Rahal, the series was known as the Indy Racing League and a young driver known as Danica Patrick was the popular fad of the day.
That day at Chicagoland it was Patrick on the pole alongside her teammate, Buddy Rice. Fast forward to Saturday and a lot has changed. Patrick is retired, Rice is helping to develop young race drivers, the team is now known Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the series is called the NTT IndyCar Series.
Sato, who won the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017, had the fastest lap in the Firestone Fast Six at 1:08.5934 around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park for a speed of 120.711 mph. It was his first pole on a permanent road course.
Rahal was close behind at 1:08.6971 (120.529 mph). Rahal scored his first front row position since the first race of the Detroit doubleheader in 2017.
“I think we’ve had good races here in the past, but we’ve never started anywhere near here,” said Rahal, who finished second at Barber in 2015 and 2016. “Hopefully, tomorrow can be a pretty straightforward, really strong day for us.”
In a weird twist, none of the three Team Penske drivers even made it into the Fast Six. It’s the first time since Long Beach in 2014 that none of team owner Roger Penske’s entries made it to the final round of qualifications.
None of the Andretti Autosport entries made the Fast Six either.
Honda drivers swept the top five positions in the Fast Six. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was third at 1:08.8081 (120.335 mph) followed by James Hinchcliffe at 1:08.8476 (120.266 mph) and Sebastien Bourdais at 1:09.0189 (119.967 mph).
Spencer Pigot was the highest-qualified Chevrolet and he’ll start sixth after a lap at 1:09.6074 (118.953 mph). It’s the first time the young Ed Carpenter Racing driver has made the Fast Six in qualifications.
IndyCar qualifying ace Will Power will start seventh in a Chevrolet at 1:08.8248 (120.305 mph). He’s followed by Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport in eighth, IndyCar’s most recent winner Colton Herta in ninth and Santino Ferrucci in 10th.
Other notables include Ryan Hunter-Reay in 11th, Simon Pagenaud in 14th and three-time Barber winner and current points leader Josef Newgarden in 16th for Team Penske.
“We are kind of scratching our heads as to why, but we just didn’t have enough speed overall to move on,” Newgarden said. “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.”
Sunday’s 90-lap race starts at 4 p.m. Eastern Time and will be televised on NBC Sports Network and broadcast on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network.