Castroneves Takes Command at Motegi Starting from the pole, Marlboro Team Penske's Helio Castroneves took charge of the Indy Japan 300 at the green flag and fended off all challengers en route to his second consecutive win of the 2006...
Castroneves Takes Command at Motegi
Starting from the pole, Marlboro Team Penske's Helio Castroneves took charge of the Indy Japan 300 at the green flag and fended off all challengers en route to his second consecutive win of the 2006 IndyCar Series before an announced crowd of 78,000 fans at the Honda-owned Twin Ring Motegi circuit north of Tokyo.
Other than one brief period when two-time Motegi winner Dan Wheldon made an opportunistic move in traffic and led for four laps, it was Castroneves at the front of the field, leading 184 circuits of the 200-lap event. Today's victory, and a nearly perfect record of two wins and a second-place finish in three events this year, gives Castroneves a commanding 42-point lead in the championship standings going into next month's Indianapolis 500.
Wheldon, the victor here in both 2004 and '05, was foiled in his bid for three in a row, but held on for a second-place finish, and the defending series champion moved up to second in the point standings as a result.
The "Comeback of the Race" award on Saturday went to 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan. Running a solid third at the halfway point, Kanaan's Andretti Green Racing Honda suffered a punctured right rear tire and he was forced to pit for a replacement on Lap 126, dropping all the way down to 14th position, the final car on the lead lap. But Kanaan battled back, working his up to third again in the final laps.
After a crash in practice on Thursday, Sam Hornish Jr. also bounced back in his spare car to finish fourth; while 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice made the biggest gain from the starting grid. The Rahal Letterman Racing driver started 18th based on team entrant points after qualifying was rained out on Friday, but steadily moved through the field throughout the race to finish fifth.
The race pace was slowed three times by crashes, but no drivers were injured in any of the incidents and Castroneves still managed a race average speed of just over 153 mph, the second-fastest in the four-year history of IRL IndyCar events at Motegi.
The IndyCar Series now packs up and returns home for the "Month of May" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500, which takes place May 28.
Helio Castroneves (#3 Marlboro Team Penske Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, second consecutive IndyCar win in 2006, ninth career IRL victory, extends his early-season championship lead: "Basically, the car was flawless today. The team did a great job and the car was fantastic all weekend long. The car was just a little bit loose [with oversteer] on brand new tires, but otherwise it was very, very fast all the rest of the time. I just had to make sure I had good restarts [after caution periods] and did what I was supposed to do: bring it home. The win today gives us great momentum heading into Indianapolis and the 'Month of May'."
Dan Wheldon (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 2nd: "I think Helio [Castroneves] had a lot of speed today. I felt there were points in the race where I had as much speed -- and maybe more -- but he was more consistently quick throughout the race. I was a bit too loose [with oversteer] to challenge him in the final laps, and I thought it was better to bring the car home second rather than try to be a hero and put the car in the fence. I've been with Honda since 2003 and this is a fantastic event that I've been fortunate to win twice. It's a fantastic event here at Motegi, with a big, enthusiastic crowd that makes it rewarding for us, too."
Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 5th, finished 3rd: "We had a competitive car today, but had to fight back hard in the closing laps because we punctured a tire and had to make an early pit stop. I didn't feel anything, but the team radioed me to say I had lost two-three pounds [of air pressure] in the right rear tire, so we thought it was best to stop early and replace it. The car was good, maybe not as good as Helio's [Castroneves], but I'll take a third place here and a win at the next one! [Indianapolis]"