FORT WORTH, Texas – At 42 years old, Takuma Sato is just now hitting his prime.
That might seem old for an NTT IndyCar Series driver to hit his stride, but Sato continued to prove how true that statement is by winning the pole Friday for Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I don’t know, you could judge from outside because it’s me all the time,” Sato quipped. “Obviously, I’m challenging all the time. But this time, of course, I’ve got great support from the team. Yeah, I can feel more confident, more comfortable shall we say, that the things when you need it, pushing 100 percent of course.
“It’s like name of sport. Every athlete tries to improve yourself. Every time jump in the car, I still feel I am developing, I still learning. Obviously physical stuff, you never compete for some of the 19 years (indiscernible). Speed is nowhere near.
“I survived Detroit last weekend. I’m still feeling fresh and ready to go.
“Everything, really everything has come together. This year seems to be hooking up great speed, consistency, great race craft, too. Hopefully, this trend goes to the end of the season so I can challenge for the top three of the championship.”
Sato won the pole Friday evening with a two-lap average of 220.250 mph in his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. That knocked defending Texas champion Scott Dixon off the pole after he ran a two-lap average of 220.162 mph.
The top four drivers were in Honda-powered cars, including third-place Sebastien Bourdais (219.746 mph) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (219.537 mph).
Simon Pagenaud, winner of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, rounded out the top five at 219.355 mph.
“Here in Texas, it’s kind of dreaming about it, be on pole,” Sato said. “I have been saying that to the guys, that this is one of iconic track in IndyCar Series, high banking, very fast passing. You never know till very last lap. You see Graham Rahal won by one corner or something from Hinchcliffe a couple of years ago.
“Really, at the end of the day front row here is safer. Obviously, you can control the race, which is the biggest part. But for the end of the result in tomorrow night, it will be a completely different scenario.
“To be on pole is great. But at this track, you can do completely anything possible from the back row. I’m not really back off on that, of course. But certainly, the team gave us unbelievable speed of the car. Just a phenomenal feeling to go that fast through the corners. In fact, I was keeping on the lower side of the range. Car working extremely well.
“Huge credit to the engineering side, and my engineer, of course, Eddie Jones. I was very happy for the boys, too.”
Dixon won the most recent NTT IndyCar Series race last Sunday during the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. He has seen an evolution in Sato’s ability to drive fast, yet become a better driver, from his early days in the series when he often ended up in the wall.
“I think it’s been really good,” Dixon said. “I think Taku has always had tremendous speed, pulled it out of nowhere, which has always been fun to watch. I remember going to Barcelona for a Formula 1 test, watching him on track. I was amazed by his car control. It was in the wet, just that he was staying on track.
“It doesn’t surprise me. He’s a big talent. He’s a smart guy. I think he’s excelled at a lot of different teams, too, which is not always the easiest thing to do.
“We have seen his race craft a little bit. It is hard coming from Europe. I think the race craft is totally different. He’s definitely had to adjust. I think he’s done a very good job of that.”
Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 takes the green flag at 8:45 p.m. Eastern Time with the NBCSN telecast beginning at 8 p.m. ET