IRL: Motegi: Friday qualifying, final practice report

CASTRONEVES ON POLE FOR INDY JAPAN 300 AFTER QUALIFYING WASHOUT MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, April 21, 2006 -- Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon will share the front row for the Indy Japan 300 after persistent rain washed out Marlboro Pole ...

CASTRONEVES ON POLE FOR INDY JAPAN 300 AFTER QUALIFYING WASHOUT

MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, April 21, 2006 -- Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon will share the front row for the Indy Japan 300 after persistent rain washed out Marlboro Pole qualifying.

The starting field for the event was set by entrant points. When rain cancels qualifying, usually practice speeds are the criteria for setting the grid. But because cars in the second group of rain-delayed sessions a day earlier were shortened 10 minutes and there was not an opportunity to practice in the morning, Castroneves will sit on the pole by default.

"It's awesome starting up front," said Castroneves, who won on the streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on April 2 and was runner-up on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval a week earlier. "We were fast in practice, but I know everybody will pick it up as well tomorrow. Hopefully we'll finish the race in the same place we're starting."

Dixon finished fifth in the season opener and second at St. Pete in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone.

"This is usually a race of very high attrition so starting from the front row with clean air and less traffic is a nice advantage to have," said Dixon, whose best finish in this event is fifth in 2004.

The start of the race and that first stint is sure to be intense and chaotic. Historically, there have been a lot of cautions and most of the pit stops take place under yellow. I think I remember only one occasion that we had to pit under green. The key will be to stay out of trouble and at the front. It should be a good show for these passionate Japanese fans."

Two-time defending Indy Japan 300 race winner Dan Wheldon and two-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. will share the second row, just behind their teammates. Hornish will start the race in his back-up car after the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone made contact with the SAFER Barrier between Turns 3 and 4 late in the second practice session.

"It's hard when you don't have much practice, but it's the same for everyone," said Castroneves, who will start from the pole for the 10h time in his IndyCar Series career. "You just have to keep going and you can't make excuses."

Qualifying here also was wiped out in 2003, when the grid was set by practice times. Dixon sat on the pole and Scott Sharp won the race. The last time entrant points set the field was in October 2001 at Texas Motor Speedway, with Hornish securing the pole.

DAY 2 NOTES:

Rookie Jeff Simmons had the day's only incident, making hard contact with the SAFER Barrier after a half spin in Turn 4. Simmons was uninjured in the accident.

"I just lost it," Simmons said. "I was out on new tires, and I probably made the mistake. I was OK out there the lap before and didn't think I could make a mistake. You don't think you are doing anything wrong until it all goes wrong. That's all it was."

***

Tomas Enge has traveled around the world to race at the Indy Japan 300. Enge was in Australia testing a V8 Supercar last week when he received word he would substitute for Eddie Cheever Jr. for Cheever Racing.

Enge immediately returned to the Czech Republic to work on securing a visa to race, then traveled to Indianapolis to complete paperwork for the Indy Racing League. He traveled to Japan from the U.S. earlier this week.

TOMAS ENGE (No. 51 Cheever Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "Japan is actually one hour behind Australia. So I've actually done more than one lap (of the globe.)"

***

Jeff Simmons is going through new driver growing pains this weekend at Motegi. Simmons' newly painted helmet is one size too small, while his firesuit is a little baggy. Simmons said his firesuits were delivered to him during a layover at Los Angeles International Airport on his way to Japan, so there was no time for alterations.

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Panoz/Honda/Firestone): "I carried all the stuff here and none of it actually fits. I'll have to take everything back to the States and start over."

***

The three Delphi IRL Safety team Honda Ridgeline trucks were flown to Twin Ring Motegi for the week -- to perform their regular duties and be show vehicles. The new Ridgelines are not available in Japan.

***

IndyCar Series veteran Roger Yasukawa is at Twin Ring Motegi this weekend. He is hopeful of securing enough sponsorship to race at the Indianapolis 500 next month.

ROGER YASUKAWA: "We're still working on a deal. I'm not sure if we can go for the first week, but that's still our target. It's good that the race is in Japan. We can visit the track but also to several prospect sponsors. The deal could come through before the first week of May. I'm crossing my fingers. I would love to be part of the Indy 500 again. It's my main focus for this year and I want to do well there"

***

IndyCar Series drivers Buddy Lazier and Roger Yasukawa visited nearly 150 youngsters during a Racing For Kids visit to Yanagisawa Children`s Clinic in Tokyo earlier this week.

Lazier, driver of the #5 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car, and Yasukawa spent time with each child, signed autographs, posed for pictures and handed out Racing For Kids baseball caps.

This was the charity`s second visit to the Yanagisawa Clinic and fourth stop in Tokyo.

ROGER YASUKAWA: "It was a very good appearance. The kids certainly enjoyed it. Kids are the same everywhere you go, so they enjoyed seeing us."

***

Several drivers have scored their first IndyCar Series victory here at Twin Ring Motegi. The most recent was Dan Wheldon, who won his first career race here in 2004 in his 19th IndyCar Series start. Danica Patrick will make her 19th start this weekend.

***

Dan Wheldon is attempting to become the first driver to win three consecutive races at the same track this weekend. Several drivers have won back-to-back events in the IndyCar Series. The most recent driver to win consecutive events was Wheldon at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this year.

***

The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series continues with the Indy Japan 300 at midnight (EDT) on April 22 at Twin Ring Motegi. ESPN2 will telecast the race at Noon (EDT) on April 22. The ESPN2 coverage will be streamed live on ESPN360.com. The race will be broadcast live on the IMS Radio Network beginning at 11:30 p.m. (EDT) on April 21. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 145 "IndyCar Racing" and www.indycar.com. The fifth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Freedom 100 Friday, May 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2's Carb Day coverage on May 26.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Enge , Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Roger Yasukawa , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing