March 28, 2014  |   By Verizon IndyCar Series

Sato Leads Opening Day of Practice for Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Takuma Sato topped the time chart in the second practice session to lead the opening days of preparations for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The Japanese driver recorded a best lap of 1 minute, 2.5615 seconds. Driving the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply car, after he was third in the morning session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit.

'I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track," said Sato, who has a best finish of fifth in four previous races. "The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well and we made good progress during this session. Let's hope this continues and we will work on speed for (qualifying)."

Sebastien Bourdais holds the track record of 1:00.928 in qualifying for the 2003 race sanctioned by CART.

Graham Rahal in the No. 15 National Guard car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second quick (1:02.6122) and Will Power, who has earned the pole in each of the past four years, was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car (1:02.6443). Teammate Helio Castroneves, a three-time winner of the race, was fourth and Simon Pagenaud was fifth in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car.

Five Hondas and an equal number of Chevrolet-powered cars occupied the top 10. The top 19 cars were separated by less than a second.

Rahal, whose victory at St. Petersburg in '08 made him the youngest winner in Indy car history, won the pole the following March.

"Overall, for our first day out I think it was a great day," said Rahal. "For us to be that competitive right off the bat feels awesome. I have to say most of all I am proud of these National Guard guys because it was only 48, maybe 72 hours ago that we had a big trailer fire and our guys did an incredible job getting everything switched back over in Indy. It was a rush, it was absolutely a rush to get down here."

The crew was to have the day off, but everyone reported to the Brownsburg, Ind., headquarters by 6 a.m. to offer assistance.

"I am proud of them and as Dad said last night to them 'through adversity comes a team' and I think we have a great group of people and I think that is going to show this year," added Rahal, referring to team co-owner Bobby Rahal.

In the first session of the season, 2013 race winner James Hinchcliffe was quickest of the 22 drivers at 1:02.9326.