MOTEGI, Japan (April 27, 2002) - Before an enthusiastic crowd of 72,000 Japanese race fans, polesitter Bruno Junqueira ( ...
MOTEGI, Japan (April 27, 2002) - Before an enthusiastic crowd of 72,000 Japanese race fans, polesitter Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) took the first victory for a Japanese engine manufacturer at Twin Ring Motegi in Saturday's Bridgestone Potenza 500.
The second-year pilot for Target Chip Ganassi Racing led four different times for a total of 54 laps and beat Canadian Alex Tagliani (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) to the stripe by 12.282 seconds to score his second career Champ Car victory and his first victory on an oval circuit.
Under sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s Fahrenheit (17° Celsius), outside polesitter Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) shot into the lead coming off Turn 2 on the opening lap and went on to hold the position until the first round of pit stops on Lap 38. Kanaan and Team KOOL Green's Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) exited the pits side-by-side before Tracy got the jump at the line where the pit lane speed limit ended and claimed the lead.
Tracy would continue on the point until Lap 77 when he made his second pit stop of the afternoon, handing the lead to Junqueira's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and defending Motegi champion Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Tracy would not see the lead again, and he fell out of contention after 84 laps with a mechanical failure.
Brack, working a slightly different pit strategy, made his third stop of the afternoon on Lap 80, handing the lead to 2000 Motegi winner Michael Andretti (#39 Motorola Honda/Lola/Bridgestone), who would lead for three laps before making his third pit stop of the afternoon. Both Brack and Andretti's days would come to an end prematurely due to mechanical difficulties, however, with Brack falling out after 100 laps and Andretti exiting the race after 115 circuits.
Kanaan got back in front on Lap 84 and fought to keep Junqueira behind him for the next several laps. Junqueira managed to get past to lead Lap 101, but Kanaan reclaimed the lead on the next lap and maintained his position until Junqueira got past again on Lap 119.
Unfortunately, Kanaan's day would come to an abrupt end, as he also encountered a mechanical failure. The Brazilian earned one championship point for leading the most laps, and he was credited with a 15th place result.
With Kanaan out of the picture, Junqueira moved back into the lead but he was not out of the woods yet, as Tagliani had emerged as a threat for the victory. Tagliani took the lead for the first time when Junqueira made a pit stop under caution on Lap 144, and he remained out front before giving way to Junqueira again on Lap 167.
Shortly thereafter, course observers reported smoke coming from Tagliani's car, and the French Canadian visibly dropped off the pace on Lap 173, leaving Junqueira alone on the lead lap. At that point Junqueira had clearly emerged as the man to beat, with the other contenders only hope being a well-timed caution flag after Junqueira made his final stop of the afternoon on Lap 190.
Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone) claimed the lead when Junqueira ducked onto pit lane for his final stop, but the Scot was also due back on pit lane before the end of the event. Under green flag conditions, Franchitti made his last pit stop on Lap 198 and Junqueira was home free. After four consecutive victories by Ford-Cosworth-powered cars, Toyota won the race with Honda to become the first Japanese manufacturer to win a Champ Car race in its homeland.
The victory was Junqueira's first on an oval circuit, eclipsing his previous oval-best finish of fourth, which came at California Speedway and The Milwaukee Mile last year. Junqueira's only previous Champ Car victory came last season at Road America. It was also the 45th victory in the storied history of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and it gave the team at least one victory for the seventh consecutive season.
For Tagliani, today's performance matched his career best established at Toronto last year, and it was his best-ever finish on an oval, eclipsing a third place run at California Speedway in 2001. Franchitti finished third, marking his second podium finish at Twin Ring Motegi (the first was a second place finish in 2000), and his second podium performance of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series season.
Franchitti's effort also vaulted him into the CART FedEx Championship point standings by two over today's fifth place finisher, Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
The CART FedEx Championship Series now takes a five-week break to allow teams and drivers to focus their attention on winning the Indianapolis 500, which has been won in each of the past two seasons by regular CART FedEx Championship Series competitors. Round 4 of the 20-race 2002 calendar is scheduled for the legendary Milwaukee Mile, which hosts the Miller Lite 250 on the weekend of June 2 (CBS, 12:30 p.m. ET).
Quotes from the top three finishers in the Bridgestone Potenza 500 follow below:
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I'm very happy to get this win for Toyota. They gave me good engines all three days here. It means a lot to Toyota to win here in Japan. I'm also happy to get the win for my team and for myself. The car was good right out of the box and I hope we can continue to race well in Milwaukee." (On race strategy) "Tony [Kanaan] and [Paul] Tracy were up there with me and they were fast. I knew they would try to pass me on the first lap. I tried to relax, follow them, and just let them fight for it. They got into traffic later on and I caught back up to them. Tracy had a problem, then I tried to pass Tony and got him. We passed each other a few more times. But in the end, I got the lead and drove to the victory."
ALEX TAGLIANI (#33 Player's/Indeck Ford/Reynard/Bridgestone): "I'm very pleased with the result here today and for Team Player's. We had all kinds of problems the first few days. We changed engines early on and we are very happy with this result. This finish takes some weight off our shoulders as we head into Milwaukee."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#27 KOOL Honda/Reynard/Bridgestone): "On the pit strategy - we made a mistake early in the race I think. We were hoping for a yellow to come out and get us back on the lead lap, but it didn't work out for us today. That's the way it goes." (On the pit lane speed) "The pit lane speed limit that is in place helps everyone. Yes, it might feel like you are crawling out there at 50 mph, but it's the right thing to do."
* The CART Franchise Board has unanimously approved a significant rule change aimed at reducing costs for the 2003 CART FedEx Championship Series season. The rule change allows each team a total of eight days of testing for 2003, per driver/car combination. Six of the test days must be used at CART-sanctioned open test sessions, and if a team chooses not to use the open test days, they will lose them. One open test will be Spring Training which is likely to be held at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, with the additional two-day open tests likely to be held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and a to-be-determined oval facility, possibly The Milwaukee Mile, in May of 2003. The other two test days allotted may be used for private testing at the team's discretion.
Previously, teams were allowed 14 test days for a one car team, 20 days for a two-car team, and ten additional days for each additional team seasonal entry. The testing window for 2003 is open from January 3, 2003 until the first race of the season as well as the entire month of May. The franchise board also approved an immediate rule change limiting each entered race car with an assigned driver to a maximum of 24 rain tires per road or street course event weekend. The 24 tires will consist of 16 tires brought to the event by the tire manufacturer, and eight tires brought to the event by the entrant.
* Not only is Team Rahal driver Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) enjoying his career-best position in the point standings (second), he has already scored more points (32) in 2002 than he has in any previous season. Jourdain's previous best single season total was 30 points, which he scored last season.
* Rookie Mario Dominguez (#16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored the first points of his Champ Car career with an 11th place run. The performance also moved him into the early lead for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year standings.
* According to Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, driver Townsend Bell (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) sustained bruises and abrasions on both knees as a result of a single car incident in Turn 3 on Lap 140. The CART Medical Staff performed x-rays in the infield medical facility, which revealed that Bell did not sustain any fractures in the incident. Bell will return to the United States as scheduled.