Sato pole position's big in Japan

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:54 PM ET

EDMONTON - It was getting a little bit old, having Will Power as the face of every road race in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Considering the Australian had won the last eight road race pole positions in Indy Car — three of the previous six here, including the last two here — to have somebody else handed the $10,000 cheque was going to be a good story no matter who it was.

But Takuma Sato?

Hey, why not?

New race place. New face.

And this is big!

OK. Maybe not in Indianapolis.

But in Japan, big news.

“It will be front page for sure,” said Kevin Diamond, the media relations man for KV Racing. “He’ll be huge.”

Sato, after Power, Dixon, Dario Franchitti, E.J. Viso and Ryan Briscoe — the other drivers who ended up in the Firestone Fast Six of qualifying — had left the interview room, found himself being interviewed by six Japanese media men covering him here.

Diamond pointed to one member of the scrum.

“See that guy holding the camera? When Takuma won his first pole in Iowa earlier this year, that guy wasn’t there. His TV network flew him all the way to Iowa in time for the race the next day,” he said of the country where it was already the next day, because of the time difference.

Diamond worked with Emerson Fittipaldi when he went home to race in Brazil, was with Paul Tracy when he went home to race in Toronto at the peak of his career, and others. And he said he’s never witnessed anything like Sato last year at the IndyCar stop in Motegi, Japan.

“It was out of control. We had to put him in a car to move him 100 feet at the track there last year.”

Sato said it’s just great to be at the front.

“Battling with the Ganassis and Penskes, it was such a great feeling to be with them,” he said of he and his KVR team-mate Viso.

And on a new track where the IndyCars had never turned a wheel until Saturday’s qualifying, and where nobody seems to be completely confident where the braking points are on Turn 1 and Turn 5 yet, being on the pole with the opportunity to be the first guy into the first corner makes this a significant pole to win this season.

“It’s a very special moment,” said Sato, the 34-year-old father of two from Tokyo who now lives in Denver.

“It means a lot. The conditions today were tricky at this beautiful new track.”

Sato isn’t a big name in the series yet, but it’s not like he didn’t come to IndyCar with credentials for his first year last year.

With no wins and no poles, he is considered the most successful Japanese F1 driver ever, with 93 Grand Prix races.

But IndyCar Series racing, because Japan has its own race now, is a great place to be, he said. And he’s making the adjustments to IndyCar at the same time.

“I’m picking up speed and confidence,” he said. “I feel more natural. Last year everywhere I went was for the first time. This one, nobody knew the circuit. I think that was to my advantage.”

For Sato, it’s sad that he didn’t get to share this with his father, who died recently.

“It was a tough time the last few weeks,” said the driver who went home last week to promote the Motegi race and be with family.

He said he hopes it’s a success that plays a small part to help people back in Japan, where the populace is still trying to recover from the tsunami.

“People need a national hero,” he said.

Power, who ended up on the front row beside Sato, didn’t devalue Sato’s accomplishment despite the fact he made contact with the wall on the third lap of the fast six final.

“I just didn’t get it done there in that last session,” said Power. “I bent the car. I brushed the wall there and unfortunately it affected the car. But I think Takuma would have had it, regardless, because he was so quick anyway. So I give him full credit. If you don’t get it perfect, you’re not going to win the pole.

“We’ll be on the front row trying to keep it out of trouble this weekend,” said the driver who qualified second.

“It’s still good starting up front.”

“It’s pretty tough to keep a streak like that going.”

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