Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - While team owner A.J. Foyt returned to the racetrack for the first time in a while, his driver, Takuma Sato, will start on the pole for the IndyCar Series' first race in a weekend doubleheader at Reliant Park.
Sato, who is behind the wheel of the No. 14 car for A.J. Foyt Racing, surprisingly won the pole for Race 1 in the Grand Prix of Houston with a lap time of 1 minute, 0.4535 seconds for his third career Indy pole but his first since 2011 in Edmonton, Canada. He drove for KV Racing Technology at the time. It's also the first pole win for A.J. Foyt Racing since 1999 when Billy Boat grabbed the top starting spot at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In April, Sato became the first Japanese-born driver to win an IndyCar race with a dominating performance on the streets of Long Beach, Calif. He gave Foyt's team its 44th overall win in open-wheel racing but its first since July 2002 at Kansas Speedway, with Airton Dare behind the wheel. Foyt was not in Long Beach, as he later underwent hip replacement surgery in his hometown of Houston.
"It's a great achievement for the team," Sato said. "(The car) feels pretty good. It's a new circuit, and a lot is going on with a different configuration to the track. But the boys did a good job, and we put everything together.
"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, and I'm very pleased to put everything together for him."
Foyt is serving as grand marshal for both races this weekend in Houston. His team is based in nearby Waller, Texas.
"It's great to be in your hometown and win the pole," Foyt said. "I'm real happy and real thrilled. Just as long as we finish up first."
Qualifying for the first race had been scheduled for Friday, but a surface issue in turn 1 of this 1.683-mile, 10-turn temporary street circuit forced the session to be postponed until Saturday, just hours before the start of the race (3:30 p.m. ET). Crews worked overnight and into the morning to grind the area in Turn 1 that required a temporary chicane to slow cars in Friday's practices.
Will Power earned the second starting position with a lap in 1:01.1524, which he set in the first group in qualifying.
"We literally had one lap on blacks (tires) and one lap on reds, but we got the most out of it," Power said. "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."
Scott Dixon will start third, followed by Simon Pagenaud, who won the most recent IndyCar race last month in Baltimore, and Simona De Silvestro. Championship points leader Helio Castroneves will roll off in 21st -- his worst starting position this season.
"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."
With three races to go, Castroneves holds a 49-point lead over Dixon.