Wheldon, Honda Win Motegi! Dan Wheldon dominated the Bridgestone Indy Japan, leading an Indy Racing League-record 192 laps enroute to Honda's first victory at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Tochigi, Japan. Starting from the pole, Wheldon ...
Wheldon, Honda Win Motegi!
Dan Wheldon dominated the Bridgestone Indy Japan, leading an Indy Racing League-record 192 laps enroute to Honda's first victory at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Tochigi, Japan. Starting from the pole, Wheldon and his Andretti Green Racing teammate, Tony Kanaan, ran 1-2 except for pit stops throughout Saturday's 300-mile contest. The win vaulted Wheldon to the top of the IRL IndyCar Series championship points standings, with Phoenix race winner Kanaan second.
For Honda, today's victory marks the culmination of seven year's effort at the circuit the company built in 1998 to bring American-style open-wheel racing to Japan. In six previous years of CART and IRL competition, Honda drivers finished second four times, and never lower than third. But victory was just missed each year, until now.
Buddy Rice, Dario Franchitti and rookie Kosuke Matsuura also produced strong runs today to give Honda drivers five of the top eight places on the 1.5-mile oval, located 65 miles northeast of Tokyo. Team Rahal's Rice drove an especially tenacious race, battling a broken exhaust header that cost him speed on the long Motegi straights.
Starting on the outside of the second row, Matsuura also ran in the lead group until he made contact with Sam Hornish Jr. as the pair attempted to lap a slower car. Hornish was eliminated in the incident, and Matsuura received damage to his rear suspension, but still was able to bring his Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Honda home in eighth place. Roger Yasukawa rounded out the Honda finishers today with an 11th place run in his first race of the 2004 season for Team Rahal.
The IRL IndyCar Series now takes a three-week break before opening practice May 9th for the 2004 Indianapolis 500. The 88th running of the 500-mile classic takes place on May 30.
Dan Wheldon (#26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, his first IndyCar Series win and the first victory for Honda at Twin Ring Motegi: "This is just an absolutely awesome day, for myself, the Andretti Green team, and especially Honda. Honda's dedication to motorsport is second to none and it's a privilege to be associated with them. Honda earned this win today. The race itself was tough. Tony [Kanaan] was right on my gearbox the entire time, and the wind in Turns 3 and 4 was moving the car around a great deal. But my guys gave me great pit stops every time and, like I said before, the Honda was a rocket today. It just feels fantastic to win my first IndyCar race and we'll be celebrating tonight!"
Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 2nd, continues to lead the IndyCar championship points standings: "Dan [Wheldon] was strong all race long. He did a great job and I didn't quite have the car to win today. There's a 'Gurney lip' [a small aerodynamic tab] on each side of the back of our undertrays, and one of mine broke early in the race. The wind was a problem for everyone today. It was strong, but not consistent, just gusting around. It made for a very, very tough day out there. But I'm happy for Honda; they've tried for so long to win this race, come close so many times-- it's great that they were able to dominate today."
Michael Andretti, team owner, Andretti Green Racing: "It's a huge win for the team and for Honda. They've been trying so hard to win at Motegi and I'm so happy we were able to do it today. And the way we did it -- by dominating with Dan [Wheldon] and Tony [Kanaan] -- was just a perfect weekend. Dan just drove a perfect race, he deserves it."
Robert Clarke, Vice President & General Manager, Honda Performance Development: "It's a very special victory. Someone asked me how this win would rate with our others over the years. I believe for HPD it rates up there with our first open-wheel race win, at New Hampshire in 1995, and our first championship. It is very, very special, a class separate from all the others. The Japanese fans have been so supportive of us that I felt that we 'owed them one'. To finally be able to give them the win that they were waiting for as much as we were makes me feel very proud."