IRL: Wheldon outlasts competition at Motegi

IRL: Wheldon outlasts competition at Motegi
Dan Wheldon won the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi on Saturday after Tomas Scheckter ran out of fuel with two laps remaining. Wheldon has won three out of four IndyCar Series events this season and now leads the championship ...

Dan Wheldon won the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi on Saturday after Tomas Scheckter ran out of fuel with two laps remaining. Wheldon has won three out of four IndyCar Series events this season and now leads the championship standings 184-138 over Tony Kanaan.

Dan Wheldon.
Photo by Firestone Racing / Dennis Ashlock.
"As my experience level builds, the one thing that is made more and more apparent to me is that you don't necessarily have to have the fastest car or best car in traffic to win," said Wheldon. "You've just got to make the best of what you have. If you do that, chances arise like today. Obviously, you've got to give credit to Tomas Scheckter as well. He was pretty quick out front."

Dario Franchitti dominated the first half of the race, leading a race high 67 laps before crashing in turn four. Franchitti led the field to a lap 122 restart with his Andretti Green Racing teammates Wheldon and Herta tucked under his rear wing.

The trio raced for the lead down the backstretch with Wheldon and Franchitti diving into turn three side by side. Wheldon held the low line, leaving room for his teammate in the second lane. As the pair raced off turn four Franchitti slid off the racing line and made contact with the SAFER barrier.

"The ArcaEx car was absolutely fantastic all day. Our only weak point was the restarts, but we seemed to be able to recover from those within a short number of laps. On the last restart, Dan got a good run and went on my inside. It was a pretty aggressive move by him but at the same point I could have backed out of it and I think I would have been able to pass him later. I made the mistake of trying to stay on the outside and got up in the marbles and that was it."

Franchitti was credited with 17th place.

The seventh of eight caution periods allowed the field to make pit stops on lap 141. The Honda powered cars of Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing were the class of the field, but it was Tomas Scheckter's Chevrolet-powered Dallara that emerged with the lead after an intense battle with Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon.

Kanaan and Wheldon kept pressure on the young South African driver but Scheckter was able to maintain his lead. The complexion of the race changed dramatically as Scheckter, Kanaan and Wheldon ran down the backstretch on the 197th of 200 laps. Kanaan peeled off to enter the pits handing second place to Wheldon.

With Kanaan committed to enter the pits, Scheckter's car sputtered exiting turn three. Out of fuel, Scheckter finished two laps down in 10th place. Wheldon passed Scheckter as he limped down the front straight and was credited with leading lap 198.

"We thought we were good on fuel, and didn't know we wouldn't make it until it was too late," said Scheckter.

On the same lap, Sam Hornish's Toyota-powered Team Penske entry was ordered to pit lane by race control when he began to spray fluid on the track. Hornish's teammate Helio Castroneves encountered the fluid in turn two and lost control slamming into the wall.

"I was just trying to finish the race, and everything was going good," Castroneves said. "Suddenly the rear end escaped from me. I guess we hit some oil, and that's what made us finish into the wall. I'm very upset and disappointed."

The yellow flew for the final time sealing Wheldon's victory.

Scott Sharp.
Photo by Michael Voorhees - IRL.
Scott Sharp's good fortune at Motegi continued with the Florida-based driver finishing second. "It was a very good day, obviously, for the Delphi team. We've been very competitive this year, but in two of three races we've gotten knocked out by other cars. Nevertheless, it's great to get second place here," said Sharp, who won the inaugural IndyCar Series event at Motegi.

Rahal Letterman Racing teammates Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick finished third and fourth, respectively. Any questions about Patrick's ability to compete in the fierce wheel to wheel action of the Indy Racing League were answered in the first few laps when she took the lead at the start and then held her own when pitted against the top stars of the sport.

"The start was pretty exciting for me as I slid the car into turns one and three," said Patrick. "I was able to hold off Sam and get into a rhythm. We had a good racecar today."

Bryan Herta, the last driver on the lead lap, finished fifth. Tony Kanaan's sixth place finish provided Honda with the top six finishing positions.

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