IRL: Castroneves paces first day at Motegi

Helio Castroneves topped day one's speed charts at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi on Thursday after averaging 203.366 mph around the 1.52-mile super speedway in his Penske Dallara Toyota IndyCar. "Out of the truck -- the plane actually -- the car...

Helio Castroneves topped day one's speed charts at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi on Thursday after averaging 203.366 mph around the 1.52-mile super speedway in his Penske Dallara Toyota IndyCar.

"Out of the truck -- the plane actually -- the car seemed to be very good and felt very comfortable," Castroneves said. "From the last two times we've been here, we know that this track gets faster and faster each day, so we'll keep working hard. But today we're happy with a great result."

Castroneves' teammate Sam Hornish, who was fastest in the first practice session at 201.81 mph, was unable to improve in the second session ending the day sixth fastest. Hornish was one of five drivers, and the only one in the top 17, unable to improve his speed from the first session.

"Both practice sessions were good for our Marlboro Team Penske car today. We concentrated on our qualifying setup during the first and our race setup during the second, and we have good balance in the car with both settings," commented Hornish.

In the second session, Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti moved to the top of the speed chart with his third tour of the circuit. Franchitti's 202.691 mph lap held up until late in the session when his teammate Dan Wheldon upped the ante to 202.767 mph. Wheldon and Franchitti ended the day second and third fastest, respectively.

"We made a lot of changes from the morning to the afternoon and we managed a pretty good, long run, and that's going to give us more information to change the car slightly for warmup tomorrow," said Franchitti. "I think the ArcaEx car is in pretty good shape and with a couple of minor adjustments, we'll be there."

Tony Kanaan was right behind his Andretti Green teammates recording a lap at 201.915 mph. "We worked on the race set-up in the afternoon, so I don't think we're the strongest car to qualify. But I believe we have a good race car. I've had to pass a lot of cars the past two races, so that shouldn't be a problem. We'll work on the race set-up a little bit more and try to have a good car for the race."

Rahal Letterman Racing teammates Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick were fifth, seventh and eighth overall with Meira's 201.844 mph lap leading the trio's efforts. Patrick's 200.209 mph was 0.2215 seconds off of Meira's best. While Patrick set her best lap halfway through the second session, both Meira and Rice set their best lap on their next to last lap of the day. Patrick was the fastest rookie on the day.

The Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series practice sessions are split into two groups based on points putting Buddy Rice in the first group where it can be difficult to find a drafting partner. Rice said, "The track always gets better for the second group most of the time. We have made good progress today and I think we're closer to the leaders after the first day in the first group."

The Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 marks the debut of Jeff Bucknum who made a good impression after his first day of official practice. Bucknum ended the day 12th quickest at 198.555 mph outpacing his teammate Roger Yasukawa by 0.2366 seconds.

"We had a really good session this morning which answered a lot of questions. That told me what I needed to know about the car, and then moved forward with the second session this afternoon. We weren't anxious and everything went to plan. The guys got data and we got feedback, and then Roger went out and made even more progress based on where we had started. It was almost like I was out there. He moved us forward and finished even better," reflected Bucknum on his first runs.

"My confidence level went up and I didn't have to keep learning the track, and just worked on fine tuning the car, like knowing when to downshift into three and then to carry through. We set our best time by ourselves and finished with full fuel. It's just the kind of race weekend that you want to have. Every change we've made has gone forward and that's exactly what you want."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Jeff Bucknum , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske