IRL: Motegi: Thursday practice report

PATRICK TOPS OPENING DAY AT TWIN RING MOTEGI MOTEGI, Japan, Thursday, April 18, 2007 -- Danica Patrick continued her success in Japan, leading the opening day of preparations for the April 21 Indy Japan 300. Patrick, who used a strong run at...

PATRICK TOPS OPENING DAY AT TWIN RING MOTEGI

MOTEGI, Japan, Thursday, April 18, 2007 -- Danica Patrick continued her success in Japan, leading the opening day of preparations for the April 21 Indy Japan 300.

Patrick, who used a strong run at Motegi to set up her breakthrough performance at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, lapped the 1.5-mile egg-shaped oval in 26.9585 seconds, 202.979 mph, in her No. 7 Team Motorola Honda-powered Dallara. Super Aguri Panther Racing's

Kosuke Matsuura, the only Japanese driver in the IndyCar Series, was second-quick with a lap of 27.0260, 202.472.

Defending race winner Helio Castroneves (202.295 mph), Tony Kanaan (201.972 mph) and two-time Motegi winner Dan Wheldon (201.444) rounded out the top five as teams battled cool and windy conditions throughout both practice sessions.

The day was not without incident. Vitor Meira was forced to his backup car after an accident in Turn 2 during the opening minutes of the first practice session. Meira was not injured when his car made contact with the SAFER Barrier.

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DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:

This is the fifth IndyCar Series event at Twin Ring Motegi. Helio Castroneves is the defending race winner. Dan Wheldon holds the qualifying record with a lap of 26.5938 seconds, 205.762 mph set in April 2004.

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Four Indianapolis 500 winners are entered in the Indy Japan 300: Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Dan Wheldon (2005), Buddy Rice (2004) and Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002)

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While most drivers are often restricted to the area around Twin Ring Motegi, Dan Wheldon is driving a borrowed Honda CRV complete with "Union Jack" and "DAN" decals on the driver's side door and back glass.

Having access to a car does have a downside. Friends are always asking for rides.

"I'm in a hurry right now, because T.K. (Tony Kanaan) is waiting for me in front of the museum," said Wheldon, a two-time winner at Motegi.

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Team Penske general manager Clive Howell joked with Wheldon about their team's success in the IndyCar Series, asking the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver if it was "your turn or my turn to win?"

"It's mine," Wheldon responded. "I won, Helio won, then me, then Sam (Hornish Jr.) then I'll take Indy."

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Several IndyCar Series drivers visited schools in and around Twin Ring Motegi on Wednesday. Jeff Simmons of Rahal Letterman Racing played dodge ball with the students at his school.

JEFF SIMMONS (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Team Ethanol Dallara/Honda/ Firestone): "I played with the kids, but they have different rules here. When you caught the ball, the thrower wasn't eliminated, so I don't think it was really dodge ball."

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New set of eyes: Andretti Green Racing drivers Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan will work with new spotters beginning with the Indy Japan 300. Patrick will work with Kanaan's longtime spotter Marv Trietsch, while Kanaan will work with Patrick's spotter, though Andretti Green Racing's Indy Pro Series driver Jaime Camara is on hand to spot if needed.

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A.J. Foyt, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary season in Indy car racing, spent his first night ever in Tokyo prior to the Indy Japan 300. Foyt, who usually travels directly from Narita Airport to Twin Ring Motegi, attended a Honda-hosted reception for the owners and drivers in Tokyo.

A.J. FOYT (owner, A.J. Foyt Racing): "I was amazed at the size of Tokyo. It's about four times the size of Houston. I knew it was a big city, but I had no idea it was that big. I couldn't believe how many skyscrapers they had and how close together the buildings are. I really enjoyed my visit there, I wish I could have stayed a little longer. My wife Lucy came to Tokyo about 16 years ago when I owned a Honda dealership, and she was very impressed. Now I know why."

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Delphi Panther Racing driver Vitor Meira will honor his hometown of Brasilia, Brazil, by wearing a helmet specially designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer.

Meira's helmet design is based on the arcs of the Palacio do Planalto, the Brazilian "White House," which is located in the heart of Brasilia. Niemeyer, who designed the building, will turn 100 in December.

"My idea was to give homage to Niemeyer, but when I realized he was going to design the helmet for me, I realized he was the one giving me a great gift," Meira said. "I take a lot of pride in my home country and my hometown of Brasilia, so this is a way of honoring a great man and a great city."

The helmet will be auctioned after the season, with proceeds donated to a home for children in Brasilia.

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Rick Rinaman, chief mechanic for Helio Castroneves' #3 Team Penske car, did not make the trip to Japan, after having successful surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.

Rinaman injured his leg more than two months ago and was told he had a tear in his calf muscle. However, when his injury did not heal, he sought a second opinion and was diagnosed with a tear in his Achilles tendon. The injury was compounded as Rinaman walked on it for seven weeks after being misdiagnosed.

Sean Hanrahan, will fill in for Rinaman.

RICK RINAMAN (Chief mechanic, #3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "I haven't missed a single race in my 23 and a half-year tenure with Team Penske, so clearly I'm very disappointed to not be making the trip to Japan. I wish the Team all the best overseas and I can't wait to get back over the wall in Indy."

TIM CINDRIC (President Penske Performance, Inc.): "It certainly won't be the same without Rick in Motegi. He has been the "go-to" guy for this Team for so many years, but I'm confident that everyone will step up in his absence. We are fortunate to have someone with Sean's experience to help fill the void." said

POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fastest of the day): "The team gave me a good car to start with and we made small changes during the morning session. In this afternoon's practice, we didn't change anything. It follows along with a saying that my dad has, 'However you unload is how you run.' We unloaded with a good car and it's been a fairly straightforward day."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second-fastest): "I couldn't get a good result in the morning session but the car's running great all day. I am satisfied with the setup and I could run pretty well alone so I want to run in traffic during the practice session tomorrow. The team has been working so hard on my car to win the race in my home country so I am looking forward to the Qualifying tomorrow and hopefully get a good starting position."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, third-fastest): "The weekend has started out the same way that it ended for me last year. The car seemed to be very consistent. The conditions were very tough this morning, especially since I was in the first group. The track was very green, so I had to be very careful. After that Team Penske decided to take it easy and make the car work for the conditions, so far we've done that."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fourth-fastest): "We worked on race setup all day and I don't think we're missing anything in the Team 7-Eleven car. It's going to be a matter of choosing what you want to have. It's going to be tough but I think we're on the right path."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, sixth-fastest): "We only worked on the race setup so far on the NYSE car but I think we're going to be pretty good based on our teammate's cars. We have another practice tomorrow morning to work on qualifying but I think we've got a pretty good race car."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, seventh fastest): "We worked on race set up trying to get the car to handle good in traffic and by ourselves. We got a lot better in the second session and feel like we have a good idea of what we need to do tomorrow. I'm pretty happy with where we ended up considering how the session started."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "Despite what happened today, it was a great effort from the Delphi Panther team. The crash was not a good situation for anybody, but Kosuke had a great day so we know the setup is there. Even last year we had a great setup here so it's my job now to shake it off and move ahead. This is a perfect example of how much having two cars helps."

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The 2007 IndyCar Series season continues with the Indy Japan 300 at 11:30 p.m. (ET) on April 20. It will by broadcast live by the IMS Radio Network with live video streaming on www.indycar.com. The race will be telecast at noon (ET) on April 21 by ESPN. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPN Deportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The sixth season of Indy Pro Series competition continues with the Freedom 100 on May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 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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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Jaime Camara , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing