BELLE ISLE, Mich — Dale Coyne Racing is the little team that could. However, there they were punching with the heavyweights of Team Penske and Arrow McLaren SP in the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session on the streets of Belle Isle on Saturday.
David Malukas was 5th in Saturday practice session and was just as quick in each of the 1st two rounds of qualifying in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda. He was joined up front by his teammate Takuma Sato who despite being 11th in each of the pair of 45 minute practice session, was 5th out of 12 cars in Round 2 to advance to his first Fast 6 appearance on the 2.35-mile Detroit area circuit since 2017.
“We both feel really proud of the team, Dale Coyne Racing, the 51 car, did fantastic job,” Sato said. “Obviously David, he did phenomenal job in the Q1, Q2. He pushed me so hard.
“Worked extremely well in the new tire condition. It was just studying the process of the segment. Finally I hook up, you know, quite good lap on the Q3. That was quite satisfying.
“We always knew that we had a speed, but just wasn’t be able to put everything together. This is weekend we feel like quite positive, so we are really happy. It is absolutely team effort.”
Malukas was equally as pleased.
“I feel like this whole start of the season we’ve always been really close to finding the car before qualifying, but always would miss it last second.
“The first time now we finally put it all together. I remember just doing the first two laps and saying, Wow, the car is spot on.
“Came in, Do we want to make any changes?
“I said, Do not touch it. This is good. I’m so happy.
“Me and Takuma, friendly competition, kept hearing Takuma made it, Takuma made it. Made me push even harder. Good for the team. Me and Takuma, we were pushing each other. I was like this close to the wall, so it was very good.”
Sato laid a banker lap on his 2nd and final lap in Q3. Everyone thought this was going to be it. Then, the juggernaut in a Penske car that was being driven by Josef Newgarden held his breath and powered his way to a very satisfying pole for the 16th time of his NTT INDYCAR Series career.
“We saved the best tire for last, we just had enough,” Newgarden said. “I mean, our car was very, very good. I thought the team did an incredible job. It’s just a little bit too loose.
I find you’re pretty on the edge this weekend. Track grip is lower than I would anticipate.
“You just had to hold on. We were all doing it.
“That was one of the most satisfying pole laps I’ve ever had because of the difficulty of it. It was on the edge. It was not easy at all.
“Some laps you put together, the car is so hooked up and so good you’re kind of just steering it. Makes it sound a little bit too basic and simple. It feels that way at times.
“Today was not that case. It felt like you really had to go and attack and work for it. Like I said earlier, the way I started the lap was so promising. I was up already from the Q2 lap. I said if I can just really push this thing in the middle section of the track, I’m going to try to go for it. If I hit the fence, that’s what it’s going to be today. Fortunately we had just enough to not do that, had plenty of speed to put it on pole.
“It was on the edge. Four, five and six, I thought those three corners I was going to hit the wall, and we stayed off.”
Now, does DCR have anything for Newgarden on Sunday though?
Both drivers said that they don’t know how their race pace will play out. They each know how important qualifying is in this series these days that they’ve spent both practice sessions focusing on qual sims thus far.
“Honestly we don’t know yet,” Sato said on their race pace. “We haven’t done the long runs. We don’t know how is these option tires survive. Last year half of the group will be able to make it in an entire stint on red tire, half not. We will see.
“I don’t know. I mean, it’s a tough to say here. The condition is very changing, but I would say we are very confident for package. Like David say, we consistently competitive. Okay, it’s only today and yesterday, but seems like different conditions we can adapting the conditions.
“We shall see tomorrow morning warmup and we will try to dividing some of the program and the sharing stuff and hopefully we’ll be competitive still in the race.”
“For me, I mean, to be fair, these two practice sessions we’ve focused on getting the car ready for qualifying and just getting the minimum out of one lap,” said Malukas. “I think that will be a really good question after warmup once we actually spend time on making sure the car is ready for doing long stints and being behind traffic and heavy fuel.”
Still, after a strong Month of May for the two car tandem, they say that it’s finally all coming around to what could be a great 2nd half of the season.
“We always knew the potential. This weekend, it’s all come together,” Sato said.
“I think, especially after how well the month of May went, from start to finish at least for me I thought it went — overachieved for me, everything I wanted, but like way better, times 10. For me, my confidence is increased. I just feel a lot more comfortable with the car and also with the team.
“I think the fact that we’re both up here, I think it shows that the team has done a really good job. It’s not got lucky or something like that. The team has actually put the work in and we’ve come out with a very good car.
“On top of it, me and Takuma, he’s given me many tips going into the racing, qualifyings and practices. It’s been so helpful.
“Those three qualifying sessions there, I definitely wouldn’t have pushed as hard as I did if I didn’t hear that Takuma was also making it in. I knew the car was there. We pushed each other. As a team, as drivers, we’ve meshed very well this weekend.”