Race Weekend Central

Takuma Sato Penalized for Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Interference

INDIANAPOLIS — Marco Andretti couldn’t believe what he was seeing as he approached Turn 3 on his warm up lap for Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

As his No. 98 Andretti/Herta Autosport Honda approached the northeastern turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to start his first qualifying run on Saturday (May 21), Takuma Sato was driving through the north end of the speedway on his cool down lap after qualifying at an average speed of 232.196 mph over four laps in his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda.

Instead of going to the warmup lane to the left of the backstretch after his run per usual IndyCar procedure, Sato was still on the race track, causing Andretti to hit the brakes, compromising his car’s speed.

After turning one lap of 230.441 mph, Andretti’s car had a temporary loss of engine power that reduced the second lap’s speed to 219.933 mph. After turning the final two laps at speeds of 225.025 mph and 229.339 mph, Andretti averaged 226.108 mph over the four lap qualifying run.

Andretti was vocal about Sato being on the track and the other misfortunes that hit the 2006 Indianapolis 500 runner-up.

“Well to start the lap, I’m on the brakes because Sato’s just stopped in the middle of (turn) 3, so to start a run on the brakes I don’t think is very fair and it should never happen,” Andretti said on the qualifying broadcast. “But I’m really bummed. If they count that as my run, I’m pretty bummed because of the start of that. But anyway then the engine just shut off either electronically or in the engine, we have to figure out what happened. It just shut off, so [it’s a] nightmare right now.

“I don’t know why that should count, like, you shouldn’t have to run into another car on your qualifying lap.”

IndyCar race control investigated the incident and concluded that Sato interfered with Andretti’s qualifying attempt. Sato’s attempt no longer counted as the officials negated the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner’s run.

Sato accepted the penalty with grace.

“The rule is the rule, you have to respect it and obviously I apologize to Marco for that and I had no information, but we’ll do better next time,” Sato said.

Sato’s car owner Dale Coyne said that his driver should’ve known to go to the warmup lane off the back straight, but also reminded NBC’s Kevin Lee that the cockpit has a lot of stress inside of it that can cloud a driver’s judgement.

“I think there’s so much going on on a qualifying lap, you’ve got weight jackers and sway bars and so much in your head that when it’s over you think, ah, it’s over,” Coyne said. “We were disappointed in our time because we’ve been quick all week, so we know we can go quicker.”

The Japanese racer went out to qualify again in an effort to be among the fastest 12 qualifiers. By being in the top 12, Sato would earn the right to compete in the Fast 12 shootout on Sunday (May 22) with the possibility of participating in the Fast 6 shootout for pole afterward.

After two laps of 232.482 mph and 231.890 mph, Sato brushed the wall coming off of turn 2 but kept his foot in the throttle as his car did not indicate that there was damage. The third lap’s speed was 231.244 mph and the qualifying run ended with a fourth lap of 231.221 mph. A 231.708 mph average put Sato into 12th place.

Andretti made a second qualifying attempt later in the afternoon. With laps of 230.996 mph, 230.283 mph, 230.117 mph and 229.986 mph, he averaged 230.345 mph. Andretti improved his position from 30th to 23rd, which is where the third-generation racer will start on race day.

Positions 13-33 are locked in after the first round of qualifying, which you can find a recap of here. The Fast 12 will make one attempt each on Sunday (May 22). The fastest six of that group will compete in the Fast 6 round to set the first two rows on the grid. The 106th Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, May 29 and will air live on NBC starting at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Follow @CDeHarde

About the author

Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.

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