Takuma Sato led the second session with a 228.939. (Penske Entertainment/Chris Jones)

Sato Quickest In Opening Day Practice

INDIANAPOLIS – It was shades of the 104th Indianapolis 500 as Takuma Sato of Japan knocked off New Zealand’s Scott Dixon at the very end.
Well, not quite.
Instead, this was opening day practice for the 106th Indianapolis 500, not race day. The positions remained the same, however, as Sato’s No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda ran the fastest time of the day with a lap at 228.939 miles per hour.
“Scott was always on top of the day today, but no, we had just a big tow in the last lap, so I guess happy,” Sato said. “If you have a new tire, I guess anybody can do that, if you have a draft, but I’m pretty happy that I went.
“To be honest, the morning wasn’t as smooth as we wished. We had to go back to the garage and check up a lot of things because there were some things, we were not very happy with. In the end in the afternoon, it was pretty quickly, turn around the speed, good speed, and getting more comfortable.
“This 51 car, very happy, and it seems like 18 car is also very happy, so I think Dale Coyne Racing did a great preparation with the cars over the winter.”
Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda held the top spot for most of the final three-hour session until Sato’s fast lap just before the checkered flag waved at 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Dixon’s lap was 227.768 mph.
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Scott Dixon finished up the day in second on the timesheet. (Penske Entertainment/James Black)
“It’s just opening day,” Dixon said. “It’s easy to get carried away with speeds, but it’s just opening day. Drivers do a lot of things on opening day, like back off the throttle, that you won’t do later this week. We’ll work on race setup and not even worry about qualifying trim until Fast Friday and qualifications this weekend.
“Again, it’s day one. I don’t think we’ve seen anything from anybody yet.”
Indy 500 rookie driver and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was impressive in his opening day debut, posting the third-fastest speed of the day at 227.722 mph in the No. 48 Carvana/American Legion Honda.
“Well, that certainly doesn’t suck,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t suck at all.”
Dixon, the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner and six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, was impressed with Johnson’s performance, but not surprised.
“It’s kind of what I expected, to be honest,” Dixon said. “He was quick at the test. He feels obviously a lot more comfortable. I think he’s done a really good job each time he’s been here.
“Yeah, he was fast. He was fast all day.”
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson was fourth fastest in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda at 227.094 mph. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay rounded out the top five at 226.995 in the No. 21 Bitcoin by BitNile Chevrolet. He was the only Chevrolet in the top five.
Positions 6-10 included defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda, followed by Dale Coyne Racing rookie David Malukas in the No. 18 Honda at 226.448 mph. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was eighth in the No. 2 Chevrolet followed by Tony Kanaan’s No. 1 American Legion “Be The One” Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Marco Andretti, competing in his only IndyCar Series race of the year, was 10th in the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Autosport.
VeeKay had the fastest “non-tow” speed, which is a better indicator of single-car performance without the aid of the draft. VeeKay’s top “no-tow” was 221.552 mph. Teammate Ed Carpenter was second at 220.889 mph followed by Johnson’s 220.725 mph.
Dixon believes every day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is important building up to race day. But that’s May 29 and meantime, teams will take a day-by-day, methodical approach to this week’s practice sessions.
“I think every day is important,” Dixon said. “The thing with today is that it’s not feeling like the race, like people are getting out of the throttle or they don’t want to lead. So, there’s a lot of shifting that goes on.
“But as you mentioned, it’s really how closely cars can run. Even though sometimes it depends on fuel loads and tires at the time and things like that. It is always difficult to really understand. But I think you can see the good teams and driver combos and things like that throughout the week, and all the time it’s the usual suspects that are pretty strong as far as teams go, and then maybe Thursday and Friday everybody will switch to qual trim.”
This if the first time that Chip Ganassi Racing has entered five cars in the Indianapolis 500. In addition to the four regular drivers that include Dixon, Palou, Ericsson and Johnson, there is an Indy 500 entry for Kanaan.
Expect to see those five run together in group runs later this week.
“Yeah, it should help,” Dixon said. “I think the first few days is always tough because you’re running back to the garage to make changes, so I don’t think we even got a group run today where all of us were going, but hopefully later on in the week that will work out well.”
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