Wheldon Wins Again for Honda at Motegi Dan Wheldon extended his IndyCar Series points lead Saturday with a dramatic repeat victory at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan, posting his third win in four events this season and leading ...
Wheldon Wins Again for Honda at Motegi
Dan Wheldon extended his IndyCar Series points lead Saturday with a dramatic repeat victory at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan, posting his third win in four events this season and leading a first-through-sixth sweep of the results by Honda-powered drivers and teams.
The winner earlier this season at both Homestead and St. Petersburg, Florida, Wheldon was running in third place behind his Andretti Green Racing teammate, Tony Kanaan and race leader Tomas Scheckter with just three laps remaining. The leaders had all made pit stops during a caution period on Lap 141, and the last 50 laps of the 200-lap event turned into a "fuel economy" run, a contest of who could maintain the best balance of speed and mileage.
Scheckter came up short, running dry with less than two laps remaining, while Kanaan pitted for just a splash of fuel at the same time, ensuring a sixth-place finish but ending his IRL record run of lead lap finishes at 19 events. As a result, Wheldon cruised across the finish line for the win, followed by Delphi Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp, who ran out of fuel just as he took the checkered flag in second.
Rahal Letterman Racing teammates Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick claimed the third and fourth positions, with Bryan Herta and Kanaan rounding out the top six for Honda. Local favorite Kosuke Matsuura had a long pit stop, falling off the lead lap due to a jammed refueling hose. His Super Aguri Fernandez team then gambled on running as quickly as possible and hoping for a late-race yellow. But Matsuura was forced to pit on Lap 195, dropping him three positions to ninth.
For the third successive race, Dario Franchitti had one of the quickest cars in the field, but he was eliminated in a crash while leading on Lap 123. Vitor Meira lost more than 30 laps due to a broken suspension bolt, but soldiered on to finish 15th. Roger Yasukawa was having a solid run in 12th when mechanical failure ended his day on Lap 112.
Dan Wheldon (#26 Jim Beam/Klein Tools Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 5th, finished 1st, third win of 2005, first IRL driver to win three of the first four races in a season: "The car had a lot of understeer at the start of the race. We made some changes to improve it, but it still was never the best in traffic. But I think all in all, the team and I did a really good job with getting the best out of what we had. Certainly, as my experience level builds, that is the one thing that is made more and more apparent to me: you don't necessarily have to have the fastest car or best car in traffic to win. You've just got to basically make the best of what you have. If you do that, chances arise like today."
Scott Sharp (#8 Delphi Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 2nd, his best result since finishing fourth at Michigan Speedway in 2003: "A very good day, obviously, for the Delphi team. You know, we've been very competitive this year, but in two of three races we've gotten knocked out by other cars. That put us a little behind in the points. It's great to get second place here. The engineers did a great job with the fuel strategy. And if you look at the history of the Fernandez team, they always run a fantastic fuel mileage-type race. They got it perfect today, I ran out just as I crossed the finish line."
Buddy Rice (#15 Pioneer Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 11th, finished 3rd, his best result of 2005: "We knew it was going to be a fuel race and we played it out. That's why I kept making pit stops late in the race with the yellow flags. We knew some of the leaders couldn't make it to the end and you saw that today. It was pretty wild out there at the start, too. Once everything and everybody settled down, the race got going and we were playing a conservative game with fuel. It's obvious we haven't had a good start to the season but this finish is good for the team entering Indy. It still seems like the other day that we won that race. I know I am ready for it again now."
Danica Patrick (#16 Pioneer Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 2nd, finished 4th (led 32 laps): "We had a good race car today. I was a little upset at the end because we had to save so much fuel. But that also got us to the finish. We knew we would have to save fuel throughout the race but it was frustrating as I was dropping back in the field. It was a challenging race from the standpoint that you can't always drive the car as hard as you would like. You have to have patience, too. And our team did a great job with the calculations today. Some of the other teams didn't calculate as well as ours. That made a big difference in the end."
Kosuke Matsuura (#55 Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 9th, finished 9th: "This was one of the most important races for us, but we didn't have a good enough result. I made a mistake on the first restart and nearly spun in Turn 3 and lost a lot of positions there. After that, I was running well, but again lost a lot of positions on my first pit stop and went a lap down. We were able to get back on the lead lap and I was pushing really hard to get a good finish, but I had to make a final fuel stop and finished ninth."