Patrick Makes History at Motegi
Danica Patrick made history Sunday at the Honda-owned Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan, becoming the first woman winner of a major league open-wheel race. In a contest of fuel mileage and pit strategy, Patrick swept past current IndyCar Series points leader Helio Castroneves on Lap 197 of the 200-lap Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 to take her first IndyCar victory in her 50th start.
It was the second consecutive record-setting event for the IndyCar Series, as Graham Rahal became the youngest winner in series history last weekend at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Ironically, current series points leader Helio Castroneves finished second at both events, but has widened his early-season points lead as a result.
For Honda, it was another successful race weekend for the HI8R Indy V-8 engine, with 18 drivers running a total of 7,008 miles without failure in practice and today's race, which was delayed on day by persistent rain and track moisture problems on Saturday.
In another first for a major racing series, the hydrogen-fueled Honda FCX Clarity served as "Official Car" for the Motegi event, leading the 18-car starting field prior to the race start. The Clarity utilizes Honda's compact and efficient V Flow fuel cell stack to mix hydrogen and air to power a 100-kilowatt electric motor. The FCX was driven by Japanese racing star Takashi Korugure, a leading Honda driver in both Formula Nippon and the very popular Japanese Super GT series.
Scott Dixon, winner of last month's season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, led 102 laps and dominated portions of today's run, leading by as much as five seconds at times. But along with fellow potential winners Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon, Dixon was forced to pit for fuel during the final five laps, leaving him third at the finish. Kanaan and Wheldon then pitted together, just one lap after Dixon on Lap 196. Wheldon was able get back on track first to claim fourth, while Kanaan following him home in fifth.
With the leaders pitting, Castroneves sped to the front seeking a second Motegi win in his 100th IndyCar start. Although the Team Penske driver was on the same pit strategy as Patrick -- both made their final stop on lap 149 -- he was unable to fend off her challenge and the 26-year-old swept past the veteran and into the lead for the final three laps. Patrick took the checkered flag nearly six seconds ahead of Castroneves to the cheers of the Japanese fans.
Danica Patrick (#7 Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 6th, finished 1st, her first IndyCar Series victory: "Finally! This was a long time coming [this was her 50th IndyCar race start]. It was a fuel strategy race, and my team called it perfectly for me. Even before they started to tell me to save fuel, I was doing it. It's a difficult balancing act when you're trying to make a specific fuel mileage 'number' without losing positions on the track. I knew I was on the same [pit] strategy as Helio [Castroneves] and when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous! To get my first win is great. To do it at Honda's track is even better."
Helio Castroneves (#3 Team Penske Honda) Started 1st, finished 2nd, second consecutive 2nd place finish, maintains his early season championship points lead: "I'm again part of history. First there was Graham [Rahal] last week as the youngest winner, now Danica. The car was really good in the beginning, then we started picking up a vibration. It looks like we pitted a little bit long. We were having problem in the pits. I'm disappointed with that, With five laps to go, I was saving fuel. When Danica passed me, I realized she was the leader. She did a great job, passed me fair and square and that shows you how competitive our series is.''
Roger Griffiths (Race Team Technical Leader, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "Obviously, after yesterday's weather delay, we're very happy to get the race in today and I think the fans saw a very good race. Danica [Patrick] has now joined a fairly elite club: Honda winners at Motegi. [Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon are the previous Honda-powered winners here] Motegi is a very special place for all of us at Honda and this is an achievement she can be quite proud of. It also was another trouble-free weekend for us, with no major problems all weekend. That is very helpful as we head into Kansas and then the month of May at Indianapolis."