Takuma Sato has given the AJ Foyt Racing team a hometown pole position for the first of this weekend's two IndyCar races on the streets of Houston.
Delays caused by track problems early in the weekend forced the qualifying format to be changed, with the standard Fast Six procedure being replaced by a 30-minute session split across two randomly determined groups.
Sato was in the second group, and capitalized on a combination of a good lap and the benefit of a session run entirely under green to deliver his 1m00.4535s pole time.
"It feels pretty good," said Sato. "It's a new circuit and lots going on with different configurations of he tack but the boys did a good job and we put everything together. It's a good day.
"It means a lot. Particularly since it's Houston, where the team is based. It's A.J.'s first time at a race in a long, long time. He missed Long Beach [where Sato took victory] and I'm very pleased to put everything together for him."
Scott Dixon came closest to matching Sato, the Kiwi falling just over 0.1sec short on his final flying lap, leaving Simon Pagenaud third fastest from the group. The time they had to beat was the 1m01.1524s laid down by Will Power earlier on, but that was a relatively soft target.
An accident at Turn 10 from Tristan Vautier in the opening minutes of the session left the first group with just five minutes of green flag time, and Power later admitted that his fastest lap had been on the harder black tires. The Australian will start on the outside of the front row.
“We literally had one lap on blacks and one laps on reds. We got the most out of it," said Power. "It's good to start on the front row and that's about it. Definitely a fair way to qualify, especially if it puts me on the grippy side of the track at the start."
The incident had even greater ramifications for points leader Helio Castroneves, who will start from near the back of the field after finishing up 11th in the first group.
"I'm obviously very disappointed with the qualifying result," Castroneves said. "Hopefully we will make the best out of it and work our way forward in Race 1."
Race 1 will incorporate a standing start (the second of the season), while Race 2 will have a rolling start.
1. Takuma Sato, 01:00.4535 (97.305)
2. Will Power, 01:01.1524 (96.192)
3. Scott Dixon, 01:00.6057 (97.060)
4. Sebastien Bourdais, 01:01.4911 (95.663)
5. Simon Pagenaud, 01:00.6184 (97.040)
6. Simona De Silvestro, 01:01.5527 (95.567)
7. James Hinchcliffe, 01:01.2123 (96.098)
8. Luca Filippi, 01:01.6520 (95.413)
9. EJ Viso, 01:01.3274 (95.918)
10. Dario Franchitti, 01:01.7201 (95.308)
11. James Jakes, 01:01.3678 (95.855)
12. Marco Andretti, 01:01.7907 (95.199)
13. Mike Conway, 01:01.5154 (95.625)
14. Justin Wilson, 01:01.8065 (95.174)
15. Tony Kanaan, 01:01.5409 (95.585)
16. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 01:01.8305 (95.138)
17. Charlie Kimball, 01:01.6329 (95.443)
18. Oriol Servia, 01:01.9043 (95.024)
19. Graham Rahal, 01:02.0140 (94.856)
20. Josef Newgarden, 01:02.1588 (94.635)
21. Sebastian Saavedra, 01:02.1175 (94.698)
22. Helio Castroneves, 01:02.2823 (94.447)
23. Ed Carpenter, 01:03.5193 (92.608)
24. Tristan Vautier, No Time/Speed