IRL: Motegi: Round three race report

Wheldon, Honda Dominate At Motegi MOTEGI, Japan, Saturday, April 17, 2004 -- Dan Wheldon gave Honda its first victory in seven races at its home track on April 17, beating Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan to the finish line by 1.4454...

Wheldon, Honda Dominate At Motegi

MOTEGI, Japan, Saturday, April 17, 2004 -- Dan Wheldon gave Honda its first victory in seven races at its home track on April 17, beating Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan to the finish line by 1.4454 seconds in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi.

"This race was very, very difficult. I think Honda performed absolutely excellently. I think Andretti Green Racing did an awesome job. You could see me and TK (Tony Kanaan) were very, very dominant. It's awesome.

Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves moved from the No. 15 starting spot to finish third. Target Chip Ganassi teammates Darren Manning and Scott Dixon finished fourth and fifth. Wheldon won the MBNA Pole Award with a time of 26.5938 seconds (205.762 mph) on the 1.5-mile egg-shaped oval.

Wheldon became the first Englishman to win an Indy-style race since Mark Blundell won a CART at California Speedway in September 1997.

POST-RACE QUOTES:

DAN WHELDON (No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "This race was very, very difficult. I think Honda performed absolutely excellently. I think Andretti Green Racing did an awesome job. You could see me and TK (Tony Kanaan) were very, very dominant. It's awesome. My last set of Firestones stuck really well. When TK is on your gearbox it's never easy. For the Klein Tools/Jim Beam boys in the pits, they amaze me. I couldn't do it. (About the difficulty of the track with changing conditions): "I had absolutely no problems in Turns 1 and 2. The only issues I had in 3 and 4. With the wind the cars were really moving around, but like I said, the last set really stuck. The Honda rockets. It rockets."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "We lost a gurney. We have a gurney on the undertray, and I lost the right-rear gurney. I knew right there that I wasn't going to be able to win, so I told the team guys, 'Let's do our best.' Because of that, my car was handling really badly, so I came in early, made an adjustment, and I'm happy with second. Honda tried to win this race so much. Dan (Wheldon) deserves it. He led the most laps and had a strong car. The whole Andretti Green team did a great job."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone):

"Coming from the back, going to the front, going to the back again -- I was all over the place. I have to thank Firestone tires for giving me more than I expected on the last stint, and especially, Toyota. Even though I over-revved the engine so many times trying to go fast, and the engine is still intact. And my team -- those guys are awesome. The pit work is great, and (Tim) Cindric's strategy is awesome."

MARK TAYLOR (No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "We had a great car, and we were running well all the way through. It is real dusty out there, so you had to make sure you stayed on that line. With that wind picking up, the car was going off a bit more, a little bit quicker, at the end of a run. I can't remember who it was who went down inside of me into (Turn) 1 and just made me go up a bit higher, but once you get into that dirt you just can't get it back, and you end up hitting the wall. It was a little brush, but it cost us a good finish. I am a bit disappointed."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "We did the best we could, but we had some kind of electrical gremlin and couldn't get full power out of our Chevy engine all day. No matter what setting I tried, I couldn't get any more. I love this team, though, because they never quit. We gave it our best shot, but it wasn't enough today. We'll go home and start getting ready for Indy America."

SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "Overall, it was a good day for the Delphi team. Another top-10 finish definitely gave us good points in the overall championship hunt. I am very proud of the Delphi team, and the guys once again gave me great pit stops. We took a big step forward this weekend, and that is great for team moral before heading into Indianapolis for the month of May. I am very excited to be heading into Indianapolis with the improvements we made this weekend, and I'm looking forward to a good month at the Speedway."

TORA TAKAGI (No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "After a rough start to the weekend, we are very happy with the result today. The Pioneer car initially pushed too much in Turns 1 and 2 and was a little too neutral in Turns 3 and 4, but overall, it drove quite well. The wind was dramatically different today compared to earlier this weekend, providing another challenge. The top-10 finish is especially good in that we did not have the time this weekend between the practice sessions to find our exact race setup. All the credit goes to the Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing team, especially the engineers, for giving me a good race car this afternoon. With over 30 family members at the race this weekend, I'm sure glad we were able to finish the weekend on a positive note."

A.J. FOYT IV (No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "We had a fuel-pressure problem in the beginning, and we had to pit about every 17-18 laps, so we could never get in a rhythm. We just rode it out and tried to finish as high as we could. It was a long day."

ALEX BARRON (No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "There are not a lot of good things I can say about today, only that we finished the race and brought home some decent points. Other than that, it's been a very long weekend for all of us."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "I am very disappointed. I thought I could have had a better result. I had contact with (Sam) Hornish Jr. and something bent, maybe the right rear toe or suspension or something, and I didn't have a good car after that. On one side, I am happy because I was able to finish in eighth place in front of a lot of fans. On the other, I am very disappointed to not have a better result. I want to say congratulations to Honda on their win today."

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 5 Quaker State Telmex Tecate Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone): "Overall, we had a good car for the race. Obviously, there were a lot of things that were new for me to get used to, but we had a good car to start the race. We were able to pass a few guys, but I was not very quick coming in and out of the pits, and that's where we lost our lap. We were doing great on the fuel mileage. I was having a few problems with the feel of the brakes, and I actually hit some of my guys (coming in for a pit stop) but they are OK. I don't have a feel (for the brakes) and that is why I am losing so much time coming into the pits. Apart from that, it was a good race. Unfortunately, something happened with the clutch. That was it. It was a good experience, and we go from here to Indy. Congratulations to Honda on their win here at Motegi. I am very happy for them."

BUDDY RICE (No. 15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "I had a very good car early, and I was closing in on Dan (Wheldon) and Tony (Kanaan) about lap 40, but we had a mechanical problem right at the first pit stop. We were down on horsepower after that. I tried to hold off (Scott) Dixon at the end for fifth, but it just wasn't there. It's a little disappointing because the car felt so good in the early stages. I think we showed that. I'm happy for Honda to win. I was hoping it would be us, but it's nice that Dan won it here. Now, we get ready for Indy with the new 3-liter program. I'm feel good about going to Indy after the way our car handled today."

ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 16 Sammy Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "It was a pretty long day for our Sammy crew. The pit stops were very good, and I just had to get my rhythm back in a race car. We had a little push throughout most of the race, but the car was fast at several times. I had a couple of close calls, but overall, it was a good start with Team Rahal. This team really knows its stuff, and I'm very happy to be a part of it. Now we can look forward to going to Indy. It was a good start with Sammy Corporation also. I hope they enjoyed the race. It is great event for Honda and for Honda to win for the first time. I want to congratulate all of the Honda people for a great job this weekend."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 17 Rahal-Letterman BEA Systems Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "The car felt good at the start, and I was able to move up to sixth. Just after the first pit stop, we got hit by another car, and we had the right rear tire go down. I had to pit again, and that cost us a couple of laps when you pit under the green. We had a radio problem for the most of the race, so we were communicating just by the (pit) board. Finally, the clutch let go on the final stop. But considering the car was new, the crew was new to the IRL, and I was new to the team, I feel good about how the weekend went for us. I don't know what the future holds with Team Rahal, but I know I would love to race for this team again. It was fun."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Alpine Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It's huge for Andretti Green and it's huge for Honda. It's even huge for Dan Wheldon. It's a great victory for him, and he deserved it. The team deserved it and especially Honda. They've tried so long to win this thing. We're a happy team tonight." (Will you stop picking on Dan now?) "He's definitely not a rookie anymore. He's sewed up his rookie year with a win. I think he wants us to keep picking on him, because he thinks it brings him luck."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "I don't feel like I had a very good day, even though the result is a few good points in the bank. We had lots of little difficulties today, and I wasn't very happy with the car. Existing Turn 4 was a problem, and my brakes gave me some grief after the second to last stop. We also didn't have a very good last pit stop, either. It hasn't been the easiest race weekend, so when you still come away with a fifth place, you take the points and look to the next race."

DARREN MANNING (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone): "We had such a good car today, and I really felt like could really do everything I needed to out there. I certainly did a lot of passing today. I think I may have passed the entire field at least twice. I am, however, kicking myself for some of the mistakes that cost us some valuable positions. I ran wide a few times coming out of (Turn) 4 and I overshot my box on that last pit stop by quite a bit, and that certainly cost me the chance to come out with the leaders. I have been taking the first few races a little more conservatively than I usually would, but now I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with the car, and I believe I'm ready to be more aggressive. I'm very much looking forward now to the Indianapolis 500 and the month of May."

***

The next IRL IndyCar Series event is the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast on ABC. The next IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series event is the Futaba Freedom 100 on May 22 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Mark Blundell , Dan Wheldon , Chip Ganassi , A.J. Foyt , Jim Beam , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing