In the seventh race weekend of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season, Dale Coyne Racing and Co. seem like they have turned the corner as both of their cars made Fast Six appearances on Saturday from the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
The smaller organization has drivers on opposite ends of their careers. Takuma Sato, a 45-year-old veteran of the series and a youngster that feeds off his knowledge, David Malukas at 20-years old.
Sato and Malukas doubled down to go for the Detroit Grand Prix pole. DCR was one of two teams that made filled the top six with multiple cars, Meyer Shank Racing being the other.
Sato will start second for his highest qualifying effort on the season and his best starting position since the second race at Gateway in 2020.
“We both feel really proud of the team, Dale Coyne Racing, the 51 car, did fantastic job,” Sato said. “Obviously David, he did phenomenal job in the Q1, Q2. He pushed me so hard. Worked extremely well in the new tire condition. It was just studying the process of the segment.
“Finally I hook up, you know, quite good lap on the Q3. That was quite satisfying. We always knew that we had a speed, but just wasn’t be able to put everything together. This is weekend we feel like quite positive, so we are really happy. It is absolutely team effort.”
A rookie this year had not reached the Fast Six once, until Malukas accomplished the feat on Saturday with a sixth-place qualifying effort. With that result, the Chicago native earns his first top 10 starting spot in his seventh career start.
“Yeah, adding onto it,” Malukas said. “I feel like this whole start of the season we’ve always been really close to finding the car before qualifying, but always would miss it last second. The first time now we finally put it all together. I remember just doing the first two laps and saying, wow, the car is spot on.”
Throughout the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, DCR came with their typical fast-pace speed. They have a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner in their seat and it took the effort to the next level.
Three Indy 500 practice sessions that led into qualifying two weeks ago were topped by Sato. Malukas wasn’t too far off with all top 10 speeds in the practices where his teammate was quickest.
Speedway and road course racing are completely different disciplines, though. However, there is a definite step up in performance from the Friday to Saturday jump, albeit on a street course.
“I think so,” said Sato. “Obviously from David’s side, he has to learn every single weekend, everything is so new for him. Yeah for me, too, try to learning how the process DCR does, the new engineer, the boys. Just a little data here. I think it’s just building up physically, mentally, build up the momentum.”
The two touched on their relationship during last month and how they have been supportive of each other. Malukas, in particular, has been appreciative of Sato’s help.
“I guess just name of the teamwork,” Sato said. “Not just him and I, it’s just entire team. We methodically thought through what the car we need to bring. This car was pretty competitive in qualification. Having kind of had challenging 2022 program because we all not suffer, but we finding a new balance for this season.
“So we have to apply couple things and come back here. David and I kind of similar driving style in a way so we can share a lot of stuff. When he found something good, I try it. I find something good, he try it. Just entire team, you know, limited resource, but we make most of it.”
Historically, with teams of two entries, one driver and crew get up to speed quicker every weekend which leads to better overall performance race-to-race. Now, this is a two event turnaround, but for the new kid on the block to be next to the six-time series winner, who has 13-years of experience, is a definite accomplishment.
“I think the fact that we’re both up here, I think it shows that the team has done a really good job,” Malukas added. “It’s not got lucky or something like that. The team has actually put the work in and we’ve come out with a very good car. On top of it, me and Takuma, he’s given me many tips going into the racing, qualifyings and practices.
“It’s been so helpful. Those three qualifying sessions there, I definitely wouldn’t have pushed as hard as I did if I didn’t hear that Takuma was also making it in. I knew the car was there. We pushed each other. As a team, as drivers, we’ve meshed very well this weekend.”