IRL: Motegi: Race report

KANAAN SCORES FIRST VICTORY OF 2007 AT INDY JAPAN 300 MOTEGI, Japan, Saturday, April 21, 2007 -- A succession of drivers inherited the lead late in the Indy Japan 300 because of fuel stops. Tony Kanaan, who relinquished the point to Sam Hornish...


MOTEGI, Japan, Saturday, April 21, 2007 -- A succession of drivers inherited the lead late in the Indy Japan 300 because of fuel stops. Tony Kanaan, who relinquished the point to Sam Hornish Jr. only nine laps from the finish, was confident of being the final one leader. Kanaan was right and edged Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon by 0.4828 of a second to give Andretti Green Racing its initial victory of the 2007 season and first on a 1.5-mile oval since the 2005 IndyCar Series season. Kanaan's teammate, Dario Franchitti, advanced four positions to finish third, while Scott Dixon was fourth and Sam Hornish Jr. fifth. What turned into a fuel mileage race played into the Honda powerplant of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car and Kanaan's pit crew.

"It was a race that I had to be very patient," the 2004 series champion said. "I think when we started, the car wasn't that good and I knew the track was going to get better towards the end of the race. So I just waited. A couple opportunities I had to pass Dan, and I knew that I had to stop later than him because my car had better fuel mileage. "When he (made) the last stop (Lap 186), I was almost convinced that I could pit and come out still in front of him. So that's what we did. The team did a great job."

Scott Sharp finished a season-high sixth and pole sitter Helio Castroneves seventh. Tomas Scheckter posted his third consecutive top-10 finish (ninth), followed by Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick. Separate crashes involving Marco Andretti and Kosuke Matsuura brought out caution flags. Both were uninjured.

RACE DAY NOTEBOOK: Ikuo Shimizu, president of Mobilityland, which operates Suzuka Circuit and Twin Ring Motegi, announced his retirement effective July 1, 2007 at a sponsor's party on Saturday night at Twin Ring Hotel. Under Shimizu's leadership, Twin Ring Motegi was a two-time winner of the Indy Racing League's promoter of the year award.


Indy Japan 300 winner Tony Kanaan and his wife Daniele are expecting their first child, a boy that they will name Leonardo. TONY KANAAN: (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "By the ultrasound, we can see his nose is as big as mine, so it's my son."


Dan Wheldon lost radio communication with his team during the race, a mistake he said cost him during the race. DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "But it was just a little bit unfortunate we lost radio communication pretty early on. We were being very conservative with the time that we had to pit. Perhaps some improvements we could have made with the car over the duration of the race. I think that was basically what really hindered us. Not so much the fact that we didn't have the radio, but just the time that we had to pit because of that. But I think it was a mistake that was made. You know, I know Chip's feeling on it. Certainly mine is the same. It needs to be rectified because that's not good enough.


A 2-year-old Dan Wheldon-dressed clone caught the attention of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver at Twin Ring Motegi. How couldn't he have? From the red firesuit with appropriately-placed sponsor logos to the white Puma shoes and even the white sunglasses that the 2005 IndyCar Series champion favors, Rei Nakamura, a mini-Wheldon, was wandering the paddock. The hair, however, needs a little work. The Nakamura family made the three-hour trek from Chiba Prefecture (near Tokyo Disneyland) in their red vehicle with Target logos on the hood and door panels for the Indy Japan 300. Kazumi Nakamura, Rei's mother, purchased the replica firesuit (more like red one-piece pajamas) and applied logos by silk-screening or sowing "with a lot of prayer." After having his photo taken with the family and signing one of Rei's driver shoes, Wheldon said he's catch up with the family after the race to present them with his driving shoes. The runner-up to former teammate Tony Kanaan fulfilled his promise. Rei's college fund could get a boost; check eBay.


* This is Tony Kanaan's eighth career IndyCar Series victory and his first win of the season. He ties Buddy Lazier for fourth on the IndyCar Series' all-time victories list.

* This is Andretti Green Racing's first win of the season and its 24th win in the IndyCar Series -- tying Team Penske for most wins by any team.

* Dan Wheldon finished second, his second top-five of the season and third consecutive top-10 finish.

* Dario Franchitti finished third, his third consecutive top-10 finish and second consecutive top-five finish.

* Scott Sharp finished sixth, his best finish of the season and best finish since he finished fifth at Richmond in 2006.


TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, winner Indy Japan 300): "Dan (Wheldon) was really, really strong, so I'm pretty happy. I'm very happy. Now let's move on, I mean it feels good to bring the Team 7-Eleven car to Victory Lane. It was fun to have a battle with a friend. It's great to fight clean the way we did throughout the entire race. We passed each other with no problems at all. The Team 7-Eleven crew did a great job today."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished second): "I think I have to say when you consider the pace of our car, I think even Tony would agree it was probably the best out there. It was just a little bit unfortunate we lost radio communication pretty early on. We were being very conservative with the time that we had to pit. Perhaps some improvements we could have made with the car over the duration of the race. I think that was basically what really hindered us. Not so much the fact that we didn't have the radio, but just the time that we had to pit because of that."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished third): "Today started off pretty well for us. We moved up quickly. Then we made a small mistake on the first stop, but we made our way back through the field and were running in third. The car was really fast. I was really happy with the way the Canadian Club car was working today. At the end, the Canadian Club crew took a gamble on fuel. We thought our only real chance of winning was to take that gamble on fuel strategy. It was almost an impossible miles per gallon number to make. At the end of the day, the result was still the same with a third place finish. We had to take the gamble to try to get the win. I thought we had as good a car as TK (Tony Kanaan) and Dan (Wheldon). I think I could have hung with them, but I don't think I could have caught up with them. The Canadian Club crew did a great job today."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone finished fourth): "It was one of those days when you're fighting to get some good points. There was never one time where we thought we were fast or anything. I think we could have saved a bit more fuel through the race, which would have enabled us to been there at the end. The weekend was up and done. I'm looking forward to Kansas; the car should be pretty quick."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished fifth): "It was not the kind of finish that Team Penske would have liked to have. The car was pretty good. We made our way back up and were poised to get a top-three finish, if not be able to win it. It was unfortunate we ran out of fuel and we had to restart the car, which cost us at least two positions. We're only a couple of points behind where we were when we left here last year, so I think if we keep it up and do the same thing we did last year we'll be in good shape."

SCOTT SHARP (No. 8 Patron Sharp Rahal Letterman Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished sixth): "To start the day, I had a front-row seat when Kosuke Matsuura had his problem in Turn 2 at the start of the race. I was right behind him when he lost it, and I snuck under him. That started things on a positive note. I fought the car most of the day. The whole car just slid. I had to be very careful getting off the corners. We played the fuel strategy to the max today, and it worked to our advantage. It was a great call by my crew. I pitted on lap 133, then topped off on lap 144 and made it to the end. When I pulled into the pit box at the end of the race the fuel pressure was zero. As we keep getting stronger and more consistent on the track, we keep picking up points and that's important. The whole team is really looking forward to Kansas next weekend and, of course, the month of May in Indianapolis."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished seventh): "It was a tough day for the No. 3 Team Penske car. When we started the race, the car was fantastic, but after the first pit stop, the car changed quite a bit. Our car was pushing so much that I ended up brushing the wall exiting Turn 4. Seventh place today was not what we wanted, but given the condition of the car, it was the best we could do."

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished eighth): "We worked hard all day to make the car better, and we kept slowly moving up one spot at a time. I was a good day for the team. The car was very consistent all afternoon. This gives us something to build on going into Kansas. We ran the Dallara chassis last season at Kansas, so this gives us a good starting point going into the weekend. We worked hard all weekend, and the dividends paid off for us today. We hope to keep building momentum next weekend."

TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 2 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished ninth): "We had a decent race. I would have like to have finished higher, but we gave it all we had. At the end there, we tried a little different fuel strategy, and it didn't quite work out, but we still ran a strong race. This is three top-10 finishes in a row for the team, which is a good start for us. We just need to begin building off of this and start looking to get a little higher up each race. We have another opportunity to do that next weekend at Kansas, so we'll see what we can make of it."

BUDDY RICE (No. 15 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished 10th): "Our run today was OK. This was nothing that we were looking for. We had an eighth-place car and we kind of lost it on the last step. I think we have a little more work to do obviously to get ourselves in the top-five consistently. This was definitely a decent run for us and we'll keep working through it. It just wasn't what we were looking for in Motegi. We'll keep working at it."

DARREN MANNING (No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished 12th): "It was good to run the whole race and come home with the ABC car in one piece. I'm not worried about the results just yet because we're still learning and improving as a team. It's just our second oval race together and I'm licking my lips to get to Indy because of all the testing time we'll have there. Here today, the car was a bit of a struggle in the middle part of the race but the last quarter of the race it was really sweet. I could race with the guys. I'm happy to be heading to Kansas because I think we have a good baseline now. If we had only started with the set-up we ended up with, we would have had a much better showing. It's just a lot of minute changes so I think the important thing is we continue to improve every time out."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I don't know exactly what happened. I was racing into the corner and was not close to anyone. They were three-wide in front of me and Marco (Andretti) was on the outside passing me, so I lifted, and the car just spun. I think I hit some dirty air, and with the heavy fuel load and cold tires, the car just spun on me. It's my mistake and very disappointing. I am so disappointed and sorry for the Japanese fans. The team did a great job this weekend, but this is my mistake, and I hope to pay back for my mistake over the next few races."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I had a big understeer, and I turned into it. I got out of the throttle, and the front hooked, and it overcorrected into the wall. The inside retaining wall was the big hit for me. The x-rays were good, but I am a bit banged up. I will feel it in the morning. We struggled at both ends of the car, but I was happy. We were in the top 10, and I was trying to hang on for the end. I got caught up in the marbles because of the understeer, and it just took off."


The next IndyCar Series event is the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on April 29 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. The race will be telecast live by ESPN2 and broadcast live by the IMS Radio Network. The next Indy Pro Series event is the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 25.The race will be telecast as part of ESPN2's coverage of Carb Day at 4 p.m. on May 25.

-credit: irl

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Series IndyCar
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing