Wheldon Leads Honda Power Play From The Pole MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, April 16, 2004 -- Honda power might have its best opportunity to win on its home track. Cars with Honda engines swept the top five spots -- led by MBNA Pole Award winner Dan...
Wheldon Leads Honda Power Play From The Pole
MOTEGI, Japan, Friday, April 16, 2004 -- Honda power might have its best opportunity to win on its home track.
Cars with Honda engines swept the top five spots -- led by MBNA Pole Award winner Dan Wheldon -- in qualifying for today's Indy Japan 300. The manufacturer has never won in six tries since the first Indy-style car race at Twin Ring Motegi (one in the IRL IndyCar Series; five in CART).
Wheldon, driving the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone, won his second consecutive pole with a fast lap of 26.5983 seconds (205.762 mph) on the 1.5-mile oval.
It is the third pole in as many races this season for Honda, which had three in 16 events in 2003. It will occupy seven of the top 10 starting spots today.
1999 IndyCar Series champion Greg Ray will join Wheldon on the front row after posting a fast lap of 26.5990 seconds (205.722). It was the best qualifying effort with Access Motorsports for Ray, and his best since starting from the pole with Team Menard in 2001 at Nashville.
Drivers Scott Dixon and Tora Takagi, who were injured in separate incidents on April 15, were cleared to participate in qualifications and practice sessions.
ED CARPENTER (No. 52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I had an accident in practice and that set us back. We tried a different approach for qualifying, and that may not have been the best approach for qualifying. We just need to keep our heads down and keep working. We have one more day left to improve."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "I really expected to qualify better based on the morning practice. Unfortunately, the Marlboro Team Penske car had a push in turns three and four during our qualifying run. It's a little disappointing that we're not starting up front, but tomorrow is the day that counts and I think we've got a good, consistent race car."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone): "The track was good but the wind was still a factor in Turn 3 and 4. I think the car was good enough to start from row 2 but I was overly cautious as I didn't want to risk messing up my backup car after making a mess of my primary in the first practice. My ankle is fine, in fact, I really don't feel it at all when I am in the car, but it might be a little sore after the race."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (No. 5 Quaker State Telmex Tecate Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone): "We are still learning the car, and obviously we made big gains with Kosuke. Our cars were not identical because we were trying to learn. Now we know some things that really work, so that is good. We made some changes with my car and the car for some reason was not fast. It was very loose through Turn 3. The good news is that we have a good car here with Kosuke. He is starting fourth so we are looking good. For tomorrow, obviously I have a lot of work to do. We just have to take it step by step and learn because there are a lot of things that can happen. My goal is to finish the race and to finish in the top 10 would be very good."
A.J. FOYT IV (No. 14 Conseco/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "The speed wasn't what we wanted, in fact I thought the lap would have been faster because the car felt good. The car's comfortable so I think it will be real good for the race."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Alpine Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I'm a little bit disappointed. That wasn't a particularly good lap. The car got a little loose in the middle of three and four, and that hurt us. We were a little quicker this morning, so we're a little disappointed. But, I think we're reasonably happy with our car for tomorrow. This is a long race and we know from the past that it takes a certain amount of luck to win it, so we're trying to everything we can to win it."
SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "We gave it all we had today. The Marlboro Team Penske car felt pretty good during our qualifying run but had a bit too much understeer. We spent most of the weekend working on our race set-up and I think we're in good shape for tomorrow. One of the key things is having a car that handles well at both ends of the track which is what makes Motegi difficult and at the same time a lot of fun."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "This was a good effort for the whole Team 7-Eleven. We've been good in every session so far. The weather changed just a little bit and my car was a little bit loose for qualifying. But, we have a strong car for the race and that is what matters. This race means so much to Honda and all of us involved with the team. I'm concentrating on the race. I want to lead the last lap."
DARREN MANNING (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/ Firestone): "It was tough being the first guy out for qualifying and not know what the conditions would be like out there. The wind ended up shuffling the deck a little since it was such a variable factor, but I am happy with the car and I expect it will be better for the race. I finished 6th and 5th the last two races and I aim to improve on that again this weekend. Target Chip Ganassi Racing has given me a good car to be able to do that."
KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "I'm very happy. I want to say thanks for my engineer (John Dick) and Adrian (Fernandez) who helped me a lot. My team has a lot of motivation and I am looking forward to a good result tomorrow. Each session, my car was improving and I have a good car for the race. For tomorrow, I want to finish first and, if I can't, I want to finish in the top three."
GREG RAY (No. 13 Renovac Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "I could go for qualifying and the race to go the same as it did at the bowling alley. (Ray and a team of Japanese IndyCar Series fans won an Indy Japan 300 bowling event, which kicked race week festivities.) We had a great week here with all kind of events for Honda. I enjoyed meeting the fans. I love staying in Tokyo and I love this beautiful track in Motegi. I just hope we keep working hard and grow this No. 13 team. We're very honored to compete for Honda." (About his qualifying effort): "We knew that probably a 26.4 (seconds) would be the mark. The wind played a little havoc out there. We are still the smallest team on the grid. I have one car. You can take only so many risks, and I left a little bit on the table. But it was a good lap and we were pleased with that."
SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "We had a pretty good qualifying run today but we were hoping to find a little more speed. The Delphi crew has been working very hard this weekend and I think that shows. Our qualifying speed was very close to our practice speed from this morning, which I think is really good considering the conditions have gotten considerably warmer. The Delphi car has been really good this weekend and we have found significant speed since yesterday, but unfortunately, so did everyone else. We've got some work to do tonight, but I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow."
DAN WHELDON (No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I give all the credit to Eddie Jones and Honda. I was really struggling yesterday, and Eddie Jones, my engineer, really gave me something that worked well for me. It gave me confidence in (Turns) 3 and 4, which is where you find all your time here. Certainly it's great for Andretti Green Racing and Honda. They've worked hard for this event. They deserve the pole and derserve the race win as well, but there's 19 or 20 competitors that deserve to be quick and to do well. Tomorrow's the important one. We'll focus on that now. The race is what they want to win. We haven't done that yet.
MARK TAYLOR (No. 2 Menards/Johns Manville Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I'm extremely pleased with the progress we've made this weekend. The Panther guys have really worked hard on the car, and this qualifying run was by far the best run we've had so far. We're still working on some things and I expect us to be even better tomorrow on race day. The most important thing is that I really feel comfortable with the track now, and it's especially nice to be the top Chevy qualifier."
TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone): "I'm disappointed with our qualifying run because we have a much better car than we showed. I didn't have my best run ever and the wind caught me out on the backstretch, so it wasn't our best effort. The Pennzoil car is very good in traffic, and it stays consistent on long runs, so I don't think the starting position will be a problem for the race. We're very happy with all the hard work the Chevy folks are doing for us as well. The Chevrolet motor is strong and reliable, so we're looking for a great finish."
BUDDY RICE (No. 15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "I was hoping to go a little better, but the car is good. The grid is very close, so we are not too far off of Dan's (Wheldon) time. We have worked hard on race settings, and I'm confident that the car will be good. I think we have a little bit left in the car too. Having a top-five start is a good way to start the round off. Now we are going to work on full-tank runs and make sure the car is solid for the race. The tires will be good early, and then you have to have solid car as the fuel load goes down and the tires start to fade. But that really happens at all races and we are prepared for the conditions. It's a little bit hotter here now than in previous years. This is a big race for us with Honda and Pioneer here. I feel good about our chances Saturday."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 17 Rahal-Letterman BEA Systems Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "The car was pretty good in qualifying. I pushed it a little too hard on the second lap and the car didn't stick as well as it did in the first lap. I tried to accelerate a little sooner on the second lap and we slid too much. All the changes we made during the two days were very good and the car continued to get better. We are not finding any problems with the car that we don't know about. That is very good. This team is very professional and top notch. I'm very pleased to drive for them. We'll run our fuel runs this afternoon and be ready for the race."
ROGER YASUKAWA (No. 16 Sammy Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone): "It's been a good weekend for me working with Team Rahal. Having two teammates has been a big help. The first day here things went very well, and we changed some things for qualifying that helped. We are still experimenting with some setups. Unfortunately, qualifying was a little less than we expected. We might have been a little greedy in the qualifying setup and I had to hit the brakes harder than I should. But we have worked with the race setup and I feel good about the car for Saturday. It's 300 miles and we have to be good on pit stops to finish well. But I feel good about this Sammy team."
TORA TAKAGI (No. 12 Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Dallara/Toyota/Firestone): "It was great to get back into the car this afternoon for the qualifying session. We had realistic expectations going into qualifying, especially because I was driving a brand new car that had never been driven before. We used the session as a unique opportunity to shake down the new car in preparation for the race rather than doing that tomorrow. I am feeling better and better every hour, and I am looking forward to racing in front of my home crowd."
The crew for Alex Barron (No. 51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone) is changing engines. Barron will start at the back of the field per IndyCar Series rules.
SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times local):
8 a.m. Indy Racing League garage opens
12:30 p.m. Indy Japan 300 (200 laps/300 miles) ESPN2