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Sato, RLL top opening test session; A.J. Foyt Racing also shines at ISM Raceway

Sato RLL Phoenix Test

Takuma Sato waits to go out on track during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Chris Jones-IMS/IndyCar Photo

The opening session of Verizon IndyCar Series’ open test at ISM Raceway in Phoenix saw a surprise near the top of the leaderboard as Takuma Sato, in the final minutes of the opening session, went to the top of the leaderboard.

Sato, on his return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing - he raced with them during the 2012 season - turned an average speed of 187.022 mph, the only lap above 187 mph during the opening session, in his No. 30 Mijack Honda.

“It was a good first session, getting the feel of the car the new aero (kit),” Sato said in a video that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing shared on their twitter page. “It’s obviously very, very light on downforce. You have to really work and the car is moving a lot. But, we’re working step by step with (teammate Graham Rahal) and I think he had a very good baseline, so I was able to do a good lap time in the end.”

Teammate Graham Rahal raved about the performance of the new aero kit, asserting a great amount of confidence in the car’s potential.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had on a short oval in years,” he said on the team’s twitter page. “I think you guys are going to love it. The car doesn’t obviously corner as quick, but it accelerates down the straightaways a lot better.”

Behind Sato, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud put his No. 22 Menards Chevrolet in second, while the A.J. Foyt Racing duo of Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist put in somewhat surprising performances to end up third and fourth early on.

In fact, prior to the final minutes, Kanaan led much of the session, despite turning his best lap relatively early on - he did so on his eighth lap of running.

Team owner A.J. Foyt spoke with a sense of optimism about his team’s outlook.

“We’ve made a lot of changes, a lot of team changes, driver (changes). I don’t like running tenth. I had good drivers last year and a good crew. But we’re just trying to move our operation up. So far everything’s looking pretty good,” he told Katie Hargitt during the streaming coverage for the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top 5 in his No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Results can be found here. The second session of the day begins at 8:00 p.m. ET later tonight and will be streamed live on IndyCar’s website.