IRL: Wheldon takes pole at Motegi

IRL: Wheldon takes pole at Motegi

Leading to qualifying for Saturday’s Bridgestone Indy Japan 300, Tony Kanaan was fastest in all three practice sessions. But it was his Andretti Green Racing teammate Dan Wheldon, driver of the Klein Tools Jim Beam Dallara, who earned the pole...

Leading to qualifying for Saturday’s Bridgestone Indy Japan 300, Tony Kanaan was fastest in all three practice sessions. But it was his Andretti Green Racing teammate Dan Wheldon, driver of the Klein Tools Jim Beam Dallara, who earned the pole position for the race after touring the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi speedway at a speed of 206.762 mph. It was Wheldon’s second career pole with his first coming four weeks ago at Phoenix.

Dan Wheldon wins MBNA Pole Award for the Indy Japan 300.
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
Wheldon will lead a contingent of five Honda-powered cars to the green flag at a track where Honda has sought a victory for seven years. Honda owns the Twin Ring Motegi, which hosts a variety of motorsports facilities, including a museum and technical lab.

“I give all the credit to Eddie Jones and Honda,” said a jubilant Wheldon. “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.”

Greg Ray managed to hold on to the second starting position in his Renovac G Force, after facing runs by the bulk of the field. The team breathed a sigh of relief when Kanaan failed to knock Ray from the top of the speed chart but it was the young Englishman, whose previous best had been fourth in today’s morning practice, who earned the top spot.

“We knew that probably a 26.4 (seconds) would be the mark,” said Ray after stopping the clocks at 26.599. “The wind played a little havoc out there. We are still the smallest team the grid. I have one car. You can only rake so many risks, and I left a little bit on the table.”

This will be Ray’s first front row start since earning the pole at Nashville in 2001.

Kanaan will start third in the Team 7-Eleven Dallara, followed by Kosuke Matsuura, who enjoys a career best fourth place starting position. Matsuura has made steady progress in his Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Panasonic ARTA G Force, qualifying 18th at Homestead and 10th at Phoenix. “Each session my car was improving,” said Matsuura, “and I have a good car for the race.”

Homestead polesitter Buddy Rice will start fifth after averaging 205.408 mph in the Team Rahal Pioneer Argent Mortgage G Force. “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.”

Scott Dixon led the Toyota powered cars in his Target Ganassi Racing G Force and will start sixth. Sam Hornish and Darren Manning, the only other Toyota powered cars in the top ten, will start seventh and tenth, respectively.

“The track was good but the wind was still a factor in turn 3 and 4,” said Dixon. “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.”

Dixon was airlifted to Dokkyo University Hospital yesterday after hitting the turn four wall. “My ankle is fine,” said Dixon, who suffered a hairline fracture of the left fibula. “I really don’t feel it all when I’m in the car, but it might be a little sore after the race.”

Helio Castroneves qualified a disappointing 15th in the Marlboro Team Penske Dallara with a speed of 203.281 mph. “I really expected to qualify better based on the morning practice. Unfortunately, the car had a push in turns 3 and 4 during our qualifying run. It’s a little disappointing that we’re not starting up front, but tomorrow is the day that counts.”

Notes from the Bridgestone Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi

Tora Tagaki has been cleared to qualify for Saturday’s Bridgestone Indy Japan 300. Tagaki did not drive in the morning practice session. Scott Dixon was cleared to participate in the morning practice session. Dixon completed a few laps with Group 1 before completing the session with Group 2. Both drivers were airlifted yesterday to Dokkyo University Hospital after separate on track incidents.

Panther Racing has hired Tom Sneva as driver coach for Mark Taylor, driver of the Menard’s Chevrolet powered Dallara. Sneva is the third driver coach/spotter the team has employed in as many races. Roberto Guerrero started with the tam at Homestead but was replaced by Robby McGehee at Phoenix.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Robby McGehee , Greg Ray , Helio Castroneves , Roberto Guerrero , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Tom Sneva , Buddy Rice , Jim Beam , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing