IRL: Motegi: Indy Japan 300 postscript

As May approaches, patience pays off for Sharp. MOTEGI, Japan, Monday, April 14, 2003 -- As the most prestigious automobile race in the world approaches, the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500, it's been said that patience is the greatest ...

As May approaches, patience pays off for Sharp.

MOTEGI, Japan, Monday, April 14, 2003 -- As the most prestigious automobile race in the world approaches, the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500, it's been said that patience is the greatest attribute a driver and team can posses. Sharp demonstrated the patience needed to do well at Indianapolis during his win at the league's inaugural race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on Sunday.

Sharp and the No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone Kelly Racing team were able to avoid nine cautions en route to the team's first victory of the year.

Sharp captured his eighth career IRL IndyCara Series victory, tying him with Sam Hornish Jr. and Buddy Lazier for the most victories in series history. Sharp stayed out front for most of the day and took the lead for good on the 178th lap while running in third place. Frontrunners Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon crashed ahead of him and Sharp assumed the lead for the remaining 22 laps.

"There was a lot of stuff that happened right in front of me, but the man above was looking out for me," Sharp said. "I knew we had to get to the finish. In a lot of these races, the competition is so close. We're running just inches apart at times, but you have to get to the end to have a chance to make a run for the win."

Sharp and Kelly Racing held the lead for a total of just three laps prior to lap 178. However, the team raced in the top 10 all day and used the frequent caution laps to their advantage.

"In our race strategy meeting, we determined that it would be tough to make it on only three pit stops," team owner Tom Kelly said. "If you're going to run 50 to 55 laps per stint, then everything has to work out perfect without yellows to get there. We took the approach that we would get a little better mileage and pick up a few laps each pit stop and maybe get us a yellow at the end. We caught a yellow on our second pit stop, and in the end maybe it paid off."

Sharp wasn't the only driver who eluded the many cautions and stayed out front during the Indy Japan 300. 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack led for a total of 14 laps early in the race and brought the No. 15 Pioneer/Miller Lite/Dallara/Honda/Firestone to a second-place finish. Before the final caution on lap 178, Brack looked poised to make a run at the lead in the final 20 laps.

"Second is better than third, at least," Brack said. "I'm pretty confident I could have caught Scott (Sharp) at the end with a few more green laps. I feel very confident going to Indy."

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Lucky 13?: Greg Ray and the newly formed Access Motorsports team finished an impressive ninth place after logging just 50 miles of testing prior to their first race. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 pole-winner teamed with Ted Bitting, Jeff Britton, Jamie Nanny and Brent Townsend in an ownership capacity. The team, entered as the No. 13 Trim Spa Special, fields a Honda Indy V8-powered Panoz G Force chassis on Firestone tires.

"We are very pleased with our team," Ray said. "All in all, our pit stops went well, and to be a new, small team to finish in the top 10, it's a good step toward Indy."

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Tight Quarters: The inaugural race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan included nine cautions, some of which included heavy impact. Drivers who were able to avoid the altercations felt fortunate, yet frustrated.

"I think that some of the moves that guys made out there were not good," Kenny Brack said. "I wasn't happy with some of the drivers out there today. It takes a lot of attention at 200 miles per hour, and there wasn't a lot with some guys."

Buddy Rice, in the No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, managed to avoid impact all day despite a partial spin during a restart on lap 45.

"Today, we survived a demolition derby," Rice said. "I didn't think it would be this much of a crashfest. I was just happy the Red Bull Cheever Racing car is going home in one piece."

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Racing in the motherland: Of the three drivers with Japanese decent, Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing's Tora Takagi finished the highest with an eighth-place finish. Takagi, who now resides in Los Angeles, was born in Shizuoka, Japan and races the No. 12 Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone entry.

"That was a tougher day than I was expecting, but I am happy to finish with an eighth-place result," Takagi said. "I feel really bad for all the people who came out to see me today. But hopefully I can give them a bigger and better result at the Indy 500 next month."

Shinji Nakano, of Osaka, Japan, finished 11th in the No. 54 Beck Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone and

Shigeaki Hattori, the No. 5 EPSON/A.J. Foyut Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone entry, finished 20th after a lap 37 altercation with Sarah Fisher. Hattori was born in Okayama, Japan.

"We made contact and we brought the car back into the garage to try and fix it, but after a few laps it developed a vibration so we brought it in," Hattori said. "It's a shame because I really wanted to have a good race in the EPSON car in my home country."

-irl-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Shigeaki Hattori , Buddy Lazier , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn