ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing driver Takuma Sato went from third in the morning practice session for the 2014 IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to fastest in the afternoon session, improving hs earlier time by nearly half a second and one mph.
Sato’s Honda-engined Dallara circled the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg temporary street circuit in 1:02.5615 at 103.578 mph. There is still plenty of speed left to find—for reference, Will Power won the pole in 2013 with a lap of 1.01.2070—but Sato, and the rest of the field, made significant gains in the afternoon session.
The day stayed gray and very humid with occasional drops but the predicted rain never fell. This means whatever the teams learned in the morning session might not apply on race day, which is forecast to be cool and sunny.
Sato referenced the waether when he discussed the session with IndyCar.com. “The conditions were not really representative of what is usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked very well,” he said. “I am happy with the balance—the team worked really well today. Let’s hope this continues and we will work on speed tomorrow.”
Second in the session was Graham Rahal in the Honda-powered National Guard-sponsored RLL Racing Dallara, with a lap of 1:02.6122, five hundredths of a second and eight hundredths mph slower. He had been unable to better ninth place in the morning round.
Rahal won here in 2008 in his first race in the then Indy Racing League—and has been looking for success ever since. Possibly the father/son combination of Bobby and Graham Rahal coupled with the increased budget afforded by the new Guard sponsorship will help the still-young Graham to realize the potential he showed years ago.
For us to be competitive right off the bat feels great,” Rahal told Indycar.com. “Most of all I am proud of the National Guard guys because 48 maybe 72 hours ago we had a big trailer fire and our guys did an incredible job of getting everything switched back over at Indy [the team’s home shop.] Ad Dad said, ‘Through adversity comes a team.’ We have a great group and I think that is going to show this year.”
Will Power driving the #12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet was third quickest in the afternoon session, up from fourth in the morning. Power has won the pole at St. Pete three times but has never won the race.
“it was a good day for Verizon Team,” Power said. “”We tried to find the right set-up, going back and forth with different things, but overall I feel real positive about us going back at it again tomorrow.”
Saturday sees the IndyCar series practicing at 10 a.m.and qualifying at 2 p.m., along with practice, qualification and races for the various support series: Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF 2000, Pirelli World Challenge, and Stadium Super Trucks. As usual at St. Pete, the action only stops long enough for fans to make a quick run at the food and merchandise vendors, with cars on track from 8 a.m.to 6 p.m.
Tickets and info are available through the St. Pete GP website. General admission gets you in to all events—and pick up a Paddock Pass; there is nothing like walking through the paddock, seeing the series’ stars and the mechanics working on their cars.
If there is simply no way to make it in person, the race will be televised on ABC starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 30.