Motegi: Series qualifying report

DIXON CLAIMS PEAK PERFORMANCE POLE AWARD FOR INDY JAPAN 300 MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, Sept. 18, 2009 - Two-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award with a dramatic qualifying run to win his first pole of the...

DIXON CLAIMS PEAK PERFORMANCE POLE AWARD FOR INDY JAPAN 300

MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, Sept. 18, 2009 - Two-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon earned the PEAK Performance Pole Award with a dramatic qualifying run to win his first pole of the season at the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Dixon, the 23rd and final driver to qualify, recorded a four-lap average of 202.031 mph to knock Mario Moraes from the top spot. More importantly, Dixon, who sits third in the championship point standings, claimed the bonus point that goes to the pole winner. He's 32 behind championship points leader Ryan Briscoe entering the penultimate race of the season.

Briscoe, driving the No. 6 Team Penske car (200.849 mph), will join Dario Franchitti (201.395), who is 25 points behind Briscoe, on Row 2. Graham Rahal (200.649) and Danica Patrick (200.519), the defending race champion, will be on Row 3. Oriol Servia qualified a season-best seventh (199.703), which also is his IndyCar Series-high on an oval. He'll be joined by two-time race winner Dan Wheldon (199.693) on Row 4.

Former Motegi winner Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan will start the race from the back of the pack. Castroneves made heavy contact with SAFER Barrier exiting Turn 4 on his third qualifying lap while Kanaan, who qualified 14th (198.560), was sent to the rear of the grid after the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car failed post-qualifying technical inspection. Andretti Green Racing driver Hideki Mutoh also will start toward the rear after the No. 27 Formula Dream car made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier on his second qualifying lap.

DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:

This is the seventh IndyCar Series event held at Twin Ring Motegi. Danica Patrick is the defending race winner. Helio Castroneves won the Peak Performance Pole Award last year. Four former IndyCar Series winners at Twin Ring Motegi -Dan Wheldon (2004-2005), Helio Castroneves (2006), Tony Kanaan (2007) and Patrick (2008) - are entered.

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Live timing and scoring reports from Indy Japan 300 will be available on the Internet at www.indycar.com. The live timing and scoring module provides statistical information, including track segment speeds, lap information and much more. Feature stories, reports, driver quotes and notes, and photos will be posted on the site each day. More detailed information, including media advisories and VNR coordinates, is available at www.indycar.com/media. The user name is media and the password is indycar. The username and password are case-sensitive. Real-time race information is also available via twitter at www.twitter.com/indycarpr.

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Mario Moraes carries a load of momentum into the Indy Japan 300 on Sept. 19 at Twin Ring Motegi.

Moraes, who arrived in Japan last weekend to adjust to the 13-hour (from Eastern Daylight Time) time difference and experience the culture, is among nine IndyCar Series drivers who will compete on the 1.5-mile oval for the first time. At Chicagoland Speedway on Aug. 29, Moraes recorded an IndyCar Series-high third-place finish in the No. 5 Azul Tequila/Votorantim/KV Racing Technology car. He finished fourth on the Infineon Raceway road course a week earlier.

"After the last two ovals (Kentucky and Chicagoland), we know we have a very fast car and even though the layout of the track in Motegi is different I am confident we can have a good race," he said.

The race will mark the first race at Twin Ring Motegi featuring a unified field. In the wake of unification of open-wheel racing under the IndyCar Series banner in 2008, the race dates for Twin Ring Motegi and Long Beach fell on the same weekend. The IndyCar Series regulars competed in Japan while the transitioning teams participated in the Champ Car finale.

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E.J. Viso traveled to Tokyo to spend some time with a Venezuelan.

The HVM Racing driver attended a baseball game Sept. 13 between the Seibu Lions and the Orix Buffalos, where he met Orix infielder Alex Cabrera.

"It was a fantastic experience going to a baseball game outside the U.S. or Venezuela," Viso said. "Japanese fans are very passionate and the game was very close so we had some nice singing and shouting by both sides' fans."

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A.J. Foyt decided to follow his doctor's advice and not make the trip to Japan after suffering an infection in his leg last month from which he has not completely recovered.

"I wanted to go to Japan and felt like I needed to go but my doctor didn't think it was a good idea because of the possibility of blood clots from the long flight," he said. "My leg is still pretty swollen and they want me to go into the hospital to get it treated and keep it elevated but I won't do that. I'd go crazy lying around in there for four to five days. Besides, I have too much to do."

Team director Larry Foyt will be the race strategist for Ryan Hunter-Reay.

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For 2009, Firestone Racing engineers have developed a unique tire specification for the Motegi event. These Firestone Firehawk racing tires use our superspeedway (Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland) construction with compounds that are close to the grip and wear levels found in our Indianapolis 500 tires. Firestone Engineers have determined that this is the best formula for the unique, egg-shaped oval at Twin Ring Motegi.

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Stanton Barrett's seat for the No. 98 Team 3G entry grew cold over the past four months and 11 races.

Since Barrett crashed in Turn 2 during a practice session at The Milwaukee Mile, Jaques Lazier on the ovals and 2008 Firestone Indy Lights runner-up Richard Antinucci on the road/street circuits have taken the wheel. Barrett returns to the IndyCar Series for the Indy Japan 300 this weekend at Twin Ring Motegi.

"I am thrilled to be back in IndyCar for the Japan race and plan on coming back strong," said Barrett, whose high finish of his inaugural IndyCar Series season is 12th in the opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Interush will be the primary sponsor, with a unique associate sponsor on the No. 98 car in Bantam Books' "Family Affair," a novel by Caprice Crane.

"I am excited to have this opportunity with publisher Bantam Books having "Family Affair" as one of our sponsors," said Barrett, a longtime and sought-after stuntman. "It is very exciting to share three things I love and have a passion for - the movie business, great creative novels and auto racing. For the first time in my career, I have the opportunity to run a sponsorship from someone who is part of the film industry, which I have worked in for over 22 years."

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Luczo Dragon Racing rookie Raphael Matos has finished ninth (scoring 64 points) in each of the past three races (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Infineon Raceway road course, Chicagoland Speedway oval). The drivers with more point in those races: championship points leader Ryan Briscoe (134), Dario Franchitti (120), Scott Dixon (109), Hideki Mutoh (72), Mario Moraes (67) and Graham Rahal (66).

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Graham Rahal will have some valued assistance when making his first start on the challenging 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's Martin Pare was the engineer on Danica Patrick's winning car in 2008.

"I sure expect the McDonald's team to be competitive; our target is top five in the championship," said Pare of Rahal, who enters the penultimate IndyCar Series race of the season eighth in the standings. "It will be challenging but that's why we do this right?"

Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing driver Oriol Servia will work with a new race engineer this weekend as Todd Malloy and his wife recently welcomed the birth of their second child, Ardyn. Senior engineer Craig Hampson will be the race engineer for the No. 06 car.

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Firestone Racing engineers have developed a unique tire specification for the Twin Ring Motegi event. The Firestone Firehawk racing tires use the superspeedway (Texas, Kansas, Chicagoland) construction with compounds that are close to the grip and wear levels found in the Indianapolis 500 tires.

Honda Performance Development has set the overtake assist system for 20 pushes for a duration of 15 seconds each. There is a 10-second recharge interval.

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IndyCar Series driver Milka Duno has been selected as a Special Achievement Honoree in the sports category as part of the NCLR ALMA Awards (8-10 p.m. EDT Sept. 18 on ABC).

Duno also will co-present the Male Actor/TV Comedy award with Rainn Wilson from the TV show "The Office."

The 11th NCLR ALMA Awards, co-hosted by film and television actors Eva Longoria Parker and George Lopez, pays tribute to Latino heritage in film, music, television and sports. September is National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Eleven Honda dealerships from Motegi to Tokyo have an interesting tie-in with the Indy Japan 300. Eleven drivers promoting the IndyCar Series race at Twin Ring Motegi have been featured through in-store multimedia platforms with a race ticket component. Take a test drive and purchase a ticket. Stop by for an oil change and purchase a ticket. The dealership name is in Japanese letters under the Honda logo on the engine cover.

Ticket-holders will occupy grandstand sections specific to their driver/dealership, with an add-on of having a group photo taken with the driver before the 200-lap race. More than 1,000 tickets were sold through the program.

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PEAK PERFORMANCE POLE QUALIFYING QUOTES:

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing): "I think actually the whole day for Team Target has been pretty decent. Obviously both in the second session, we were at the top of the charts. My car was definitely good in the first session. This morning we stuck with one set of tires. We didn't run another set like everybody else was just to try to save them for two qualifyings and practice, too. It's always hard to know what you're going to get out there especially when you have a couple guys that hit the wall, put All Dry down, things like that, the track conditions changing. I think they all seemed to be in our favor today. I think the track cooled off a little bit. There was no real wind. The car had a real balance. The outlook was nice to see when you see that come up on the dash and obviously you know you got to go a little bit quicker. But it didn't seem we had to pull out as much as maybe some of the others. The car was definitely quick. Hopefully it's consistent. We did a nice full-tank run in the second session, seemed pretty decent. We'll see what tomorrow brings."

MARIO MORAES (No. 5 Azul Tequila/Votorantim/KVRT, qualified second): "We have a really good car on ovals, and though It's a tough track I had a good car today. We were fifth (on the speed chart) in the second practice and I think we're going to have a good finish. KV Racing has been doing a great job."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Lifelock): We struggled this morning with the LifeLock car. We didn't have a good balance at all. The guys made some great changes on it from the first to second session. We were very happy with the car. Qualifying, my out lap leading to my first lap, I wasn't quite quick enough on that. I was a little concerned. Took one, two, three, four coming to the green. Ultimately that cost me some lap time. Still wouldn't have been quick enough to challenge Scott. He did a fabulous job there. Really impressive qualifying run. But we're starting close to the front. Yeah, it's going to be a long race. As Ryan says, hopefully it doesn't come down to a fuel race. But I think we're in good shape for that. I think our race car is better than our qualifying car right now.

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske): Pretty good. Just a little bit loose on the first two laps. It wasn't really giving me of the confidence to get the throttle down out of Turn 4, so I left a bit on the table there. The car has been pretty good in practice. We had good, long runs today. It's going to be a tough race, it always is here. Hopefully doesn't come down to a fuel event, which it usually does, but we'll be aiming for it if that's the case. Hopefully we can still come out of here leading the points going into Homestead.

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team, qualified fifth): "I really enjoy this track. The McDonald's car has been working well since the second we showed up. I'm definitely happy with that; I couldn't ask for much more. We're working hard. Obviously we still have room to develop but we're competitive and that's where we want to be. It would be great to get a win this year - that's the biggest think -- and there is a great opportunity for us here since the car has been good since we showed up."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola, qualified sixth): "We're here to win so I'm a little disappointed with where we qualified. On my third lap instead of downshifting to fifth gear the car went all the way down to fourth. I'm not sure if it did it by accident or if it was an electrical problem, but I'm sure that affected my last lap. The car has been pretty good today, Eddie (Jones), my engineer, has done a great job and we were really strong in the last practice session before qualifying and made great progress. The entire #7 crew has been working hard and I think we'll be okay for tomorrow's race.

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, qualified seventh): ""The car improved so much between the practice session and qualifying. The car had more in it than I was able to get out of it. Every lap I pushed more and more but I never got to the limit of the car even on the last lap so I'm pretty confident that there was a faster lap in the car. I'm not sure if the track was a lot better or we made the right changes. I am with a great team so I have to say they made the right changes. The good thing though is that tomorrow I have 200 laps to reach the potential. It feels like I have a great car under me and that's what we need to be consistent and get to the front tomorrow"

DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, qualified eighth): "It wasn't a bad run in the National Guard Panther Racing car today, we just have a little too much understeer on the exit of Turn 4. That's what we've been trying to dial out today, and we have a reasonable race car to be quite honest, and we did a long race run with the car earlier today, and it was good. I feel like we're well prepared for the race and might be just a little bit behind the Penskes and Ganassis on the longer runs. But for the most part, we're in pretty good shape. The key here is you've got to be able to get on the power real early coming out of Turns 3 and 4 and you've got to be able to drive the car in there really deep, as well. If you can get on the power early, and with confidence, coming out of there you can get a good run on people coming down the straight."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske): "My car was running smooth, but there was an unexpected understeer in Turn 4 and unfortunately it didn't work out the way I wanted."

HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream): "I don't know what happened. Maybe I pushed too hard. I am disappointed because I wanted to do well because it's my home race in my home country. I'm a bit sore but I'm OK. I have a great setup and we have a good strategy, so I am looking forward to the race tomorrow. I will do my best to move up to the front and finish the race with a smile."

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The 2009 IndyCar Series season continues Sept. 19 with the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 10:30 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 18 by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The radio broadcast also will be carried on www.indycar.com. A one-hour qualifying show will air on VERSUS at 6 p.m. on Sept. 18. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Homestead-Miami 100 on Oct. 9 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be telecast by Live by VERSUS at 6 p.m. (EDT).

-credit: irl

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Milka Duno , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Larry Foyt , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Briscoe , Stanton Barrett , Richard Antinucci , Chip Ganassi , Mario Moraes , Hideki Mutoh , A.J. Foyt , Danica Patrick , Jaques Lazier
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , KV Racing Technology , HVM Racing , Dragon Racing