Sato blasts late lap in excess of 228 mph, tops Day 1 of Indy 500 practice, main takeaways from a busy Tuesday

INDIANAPOLIS — The chamber of commerce day in Central Indiana led way to a busy opening day of action for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. With the threat of rain for much of Wednesday, it forced teams to be busier than normal on the 2.5-mile oval with 3,229 laps being turned in the two combined sessions on Tuesday.

For most of the day, the speed charts were dominated by Chip Ganassi Racing. They’re hoping to pick up to where they left off in 2021 to where Ganassi put all 4 cars in the Fast 9. However, none of which sipped the ice cold glass of milk on May 30 of last year. In fact, they’ve not won an Indy 500 since Dario Franchitti’s triumph in 2012. At that time, Franchitti’s win was Ganassi’s 3rd in a 5 year span. They’re 0-for-9 since.

This time around though, the speed translated over to a strong start to the month for oval activity with Ganassi going 1-2 in the morning session and having all 5 of their cars in the top 9 in the afternoon practice.

Scott Dixon went P1 this morning and P2 this afternoon. The 2008 Indy 500 champion turned a lap of 227.768 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda.

“Yeah, day was pretty good I think for all of the Ganassi cars,” Dixon said. “They rolled off well, trying to get through the test. For us the day was definitely fragmented a bit with just how the schedule was, but beautiful weather, great to be out here and happy with the car.”

Dixon, won the pole a year ago but an ill timed first caution of the race during the opening pit sequence caught Dixon out and ended up pinning him a lap down. With having all the data from the last two years of the Aeroscreen, the test last month and now five cars, Dixon says that they’re sitting in a good spot right now even if it rains on Wednesday.

Chip Ganassi Racing hasn’t won this race in a decade, does that change next Sunday? Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“I think we’ve always got more stuff to test than actual getting on the car and running it,” Dixon continued. “The good thing is with five strong cars, we’ve been able to move through it pretty quickly. Some always driver feel, so you want to check them yourself just to make sure it’s how you would like it.

“Yeah, I think as the week progresses, we’ll get through the meat of it, and I think for all of us it’s really just running in traffic as we saw the majority of people today. Last year it was interesting to see when people switched to qual trims, like we had a lot on Thursday, which was kind of bizarre last year, so we’ll keep an eye on that. But yeah, car feels strong, but always room to improve.”

Dixon has had an abysmal start to the season for his standards. Without a podium and not having a win in the last 26 races, he’s not having fun right now. Granted, he’s still had a top 10 in all 5 races run too and is currently 5th in points too, he’s still not having a very Scott Dixon like season he feels.

“It’s been pretty horrendous I think in some circumstances,” said Dixon. “Honestly some were pretty big mistakes that we did as a group that should have never happened. That’s probably two of them. And then I think we got into a bit of a weird snowball effect here on the road course, and honestly we just changed way too much stuff, and when you do that, you just miss the balance, and with how tight the competition is right now, then you’re going to be out to lunch, and we definitely were.”

Dixon notes that his actual race car has been strong. It’s the fact that the 9 team isn’t on their game during qualifying is what’s been problematic. The seven-time series champion has 1 top 5 starting spot all season and has qualified 16th, 13th and 21st respectively the last 3 races. That’s not going to get you to the top step of the podium most weeks.

“I think the cars race really well,” he says. “We’ve had really strong races when you look at the competition of the field. It’s just really been the qualifying effort where we’ve either made mistakes or got ourselves into a bit of trouble.

“I definitely get frustrated. I swear a lot. But that’s just because we’re all competitive. Yeah, it’s always tough. Been in this position before. It’s nothing new. We’ll turn it around and we’ll get on with it.

“I think we just kind of need to reset, calm down and get back to it. I think the road course tire for me has been sensitive at many tracks in the past couple of years, especially once we put the canopy on the car. My driving style is not — I don’t know, I just find it a bit trickier than maybe some of the others.”

Dixon is happy to get to Indy now. He’s qualified on the front row in 3 of the last 5 Indy 500’s.

“Nice to shift gears here at the speedway, and I expect that to continue once we leave here, as well. Look, it’s a totally different environment. It’s a different structure, different track time and obviously a totally different circuit. So yeah, any track is different; you’ve just got to move on. And your weekend, depending on how it starts can be totally different, as well. Yeah, good time to reset.”

He was joined up front by teammates Jimmie Johnson (227.722 mph) in 3rd, Marcus Ericsson (227.094 mph) in 4th, Alex Palou (226.973 mph) in 6th and Tony Kanaan (226.292 mph) in 9th.

That’s a strong showing in Day 1, especially when they were 3-4-7-8-10 in the test.

However, they weren’t P1 though on the day as Takuma Sato laid down a late banker lap in Happy Hour. The two-time Indy 500 champion went 228.939 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda.

“Yeah, 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,” said Sato. “If you have a new tire I guess anybody can do that, 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 was 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.”

Sato, was second quickest in the test too and is eyeing a 3rd Indy 500 win and all coming with different teams. If Sato can win on Sunday, he’d be just the 7th driver to win three Indy 500’s and only the 11th with 3 or more. Currently, he’s one of just 20 drivers to ever win this race multiple times. If he can win it three times, he’d join an even more elite club of AJ Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves each with 4 wins and Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Bobby Unser and Dario Franchitti with 3.

Sato’s teammate of David Malukas was 7th (226.448 mph in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda to give the Honda’s to give the manufacturer 7 of the top 8 speeds and all 5 Ganassi’s and both Coyne cars in the top 9.

Rinus VeeKay (226.996 mph) rounded out the top 5.

OF Note:

Scott McLaughlin earned the honors of being the 1st car on track this morning. While that’s a fun title to have, it’s not one that led to much success. Since this stat has been kept beginning in 1984, none of the first drivers on track has won the Indy 500 that year. In fact, they only have 7 top fives at that but 2 in the last 3 years though too.

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