IRL: Motegi: Race report

CASTRONEVES' LEAD CONTINUES CLIMB AFTER MOTEGI WIN MOTEGI, Japan -- Helio Castroneves showed his hand in the first practice session at Twin Ring Motegi. He took the pot in the fourth Indy Japan 300. Oh, there were plenty of others in the game...

CASTRONEVES' LEAD CONTINUES CLIMB AFTER MOTEGI WIN

MOTEGI, Japan -- Helio Castroneves showed his hand in the first practice session at Twin Ring Motegi. He took the pot in the fourth Indy Japan 300.

Oh, there were plenty of others in the game -- including runner-up Dan Wheldon and third-place finisher Tony Kanaan, who both acknowledged they didn't have enough to catch Castroneves near the end of the 200-lap race on the 1.5-mile egg-shaped oval.

They really didn't have any answers from the midpoint onward. How dominating was Castroneves, who climbed the fence for the second consecutive race? Well, here are a few examples:
    He led 184 laps.
    His fastest race lap was 190 (199.910 mph; 27.3723 seconds).
    His second-fastest lap was 180 (199.847 mph).

In summation, Castroneves takes sizable 42-point after three events lead into the 90th Indianapolis 500, where he won in 2001 and '02.

"What a team, what a team," said Castroneves, who was whisked with champagne bottle in hand from Victory Circle to team owner Roger Penske's plane for the flight to Phoenix to catch the Team Penske cars in the NASCAR Nextel Cup race.

It was Castroneves' fourth IndyCar Series victory from the pole and ninth overall (eight on ovals).

"These guys are unbelievable," he said. "We were fast from the very start this week, which is good because there wasn't a lot of practice time. But today was perfect, and the car was perfect, too. I said yesterday that I wanted to finish where we started, and I don't think it was ever in question. We were fast all day."

Wheldon, who started third in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, was seeking to become the first driver in IndyCar Series history to win three consecutive races at the same facility. He led five laps off green-flap pit stops and posted the second-fastest lap of the race (200.432 mph).

"It's a reasonable result from a points standpoint," the reigning IndyCar Series champion and Indianapolis 500 winner said. "I just didn't have enough for Helio. At some points of the race I was very, very quick, and just tailed off at other points.

"All in all, it's a great result. It would have been great to win three in a row. But it just wasn't meant to be and we'll move on to Indy."

INDY JAPAN 300 POST-RACE NOTES:

* This is Helio Castroneves' ninth career IndyCar Series victory and his second consecutive win of the season. It is the 11th time a driver has won back-to-back IndyCar Series events. Dan Wheldon was the last driver to accomplish the feat when he won three consecutive races last season.

* Castroneves' margin of victory, 6.3851 seconds, is the largest margin of victory at Twin Ring Motegi. It is Castroneves' first win in eight starts in Japan and his 15th career Indy-style win. Prior to today's win, his best finish at Motegi was second in 2001.

* Castroneves has recorded 27 top-three finishes in the 69 IndyCar Series races he's run to date (39 percent). He won from the pole position for the fourth time in his IndyCar Series career, tying Greg Ray for second on the all-time list for wins from the pole.

* This is Marlboro Team Penske second win of the season and its 17th win in the IndyCar Series. The team's last victory came at St. Petersburg with Castroneves. The team now has 76 oval wins out of their record 126 career wins - the most of any team in open-wheel racing.

* Dan Wheldon finished second. It is his third consecutive top-two finish at Motegi and his second top-five finish this season.

* Tony Kanaan finished third. It is his fifth consecutive top-10 finish and his fourth top-five finish in four starts.

***

Andretti Green Racing drivers Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti have used their time out of the car to torment their rookie teammate Marco Andretti. The three IndyCar Series veterans have aided fans in securing Andretti's autograph in the paddock several times this weekend and also pulled a prank in Andretti's room at the Twin Ring Hotel. Herta removed the lightbulbs from Andretti's room to fool the rookie into thinking his room had lost electricity. Kanaan then offered to help him, and when they returned to the room, he turned on the television, proving power had been restored and leaving the rookie in the dark room.

***

INDY JAPAN 300 POST-RACE QUOTES:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, winner, Indy Japan 300): ""What a team, what a team. These guys are unbelievable. We were fast from the very start this week, which is good because there wasn't a lot of practice time. But today was perfect, and the car was perfect too. I said yesterday that I wanted to finish where we started, and I don't think it was ever in question. We were fast all day."

DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, finished second): "It's a reasonable result from a points standpoint. I just didn't have enough for Helio. At some points of the race I was very, very quick, and just tailed off at other points. All in all, it's a great result. It would have been great to win three in a row. But it just wasn't meant to be and we'll move on to Indy."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished third): "Well, it was an OK day for us. We had a flat tire toward the end, I had to pit a lot earlier. The car was OK. I think I was going to be competitive, but we got a set back when we got the flat tire, and I had to pit earlier. Third place is not bad for us today."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone finished ninth): "I'm pretty disappointed because we had such a good run going, and the Target car was just fantastic. On that last stop, I lost the clutch, stalled it and fell back too many spots too late in the race to make a decent comeback. It really is a shame. Even after messing up my first pit stop when I overshot the box by quite a bit, we were able to pick our way back and saving enough fuel that we made it into the lead a few times. Heading into that last pit stop, the No. 9 Target car was so strong that I was so confident that we could have come out ahead of Helio (Castroneves) for the lead. It's disappointing but having a car that good today bodes well for the month of May."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished 10th): "This was a very big day for the Panther team because we were able to move up in the championship standings. I think we need to be more aggressive with our setup. It is nice to get a Top Ten, but I think we could have had a Top Five car today. We moved a ton of aero to the front of the Network LIVE car and that was still not enough. But most importantly, being able to move up some spots in the championship right before Indy is big for all of us. When we tested at the Speedway the car was great and I know we're going to have a very strong month of May."

BUDDY RICE (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Argent Panoz/Honda/Firestone, finished fifth): "The day wasn't too bad considering where we had to start and the circumstances that we had to deal with during the race. This is a good start for us going into the month of May. We ran strong at St. Pete and we came here and we were good. Obviously we have room for improvement, but when you start 18th a top-five finish is great. The biggest thing that helped this race was my Argent Mortgage pit crew. Every pit stop my crew picked up several spots. My guys deserve a huge pat on the back for this result. The feeling I am getting from this year reminds me of the last time I finished fifth at Motegi (2004) and we will see if we can duplicate that result (won Indy) in May."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic/ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished seventh): "Of course I am disappointed because I expected a better result, but seventh was not too bad. This was good for the championship points. This was the most important race for me this year, and I had a lot of fans here. The team did a great job and I didn't make any mistakes. The car wasn't perfect. The gearing was a little bit too short and when I was catching someone, I was hitting the [rev] limiter coming off of Turn Two. It was difficult to overtake. The last fifty laps, I thought I could overtake Buddy Rice, but the gear was too short and I couldn't do anything. I think a lot of drivers had the same problem. Race by race, the handling of my car is getting better and better. During the month of May, I think we will have a great car and hopefully we can have a top-five finish in the Indy 500."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 16 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Argent Panoz/Honda/ Firestone, finished eighth): "I don't think our Argent Mortgage Honda was that fast, but I do think we were smart enough with our strategy and our pit stops were good enough and we were able to run consistently and it produced a solid result. We just weren't able to run consistently fast enough to overtake the leaders. I had one stint where I was really able to make up some time and gain position, but I battled understeer most of the day. Unfortunately when you have problems at Motegi going through [turns] three and four it will limit what you can do. Overall we weren't super fast, but we did get our result. I am disappointed that on the last restart I got chopped pretty good. Everybody was getting a little feisty with their moves and everybody was a little too bold. At least we finished and scored more points and we didn't do anything stupid."

***

The next IndyCar Series event is the 90th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be broadcast at 1 p.m. (EDT) by ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network. The next Indy Pro Series event is the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Marco Andretti , Chip Ganassi , Roger Penske
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing