The Inside Track

Japan 500
Dan Maldonado
May 22, 2000
201 Laps
1.549 Miles
2000 Race Winner: Michael Andretti

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Other's by Dan

This is my first in a continuing series of articles that will take a different perspective on races, i.e. what happened that others might have overlooked. Check back with AutoRacing1.com the week following every race for my latest article.

Once again Michael Andretti was able to prove that he is still a great racer and that he can stare down adversity. Having been seemingly disqualified from his result in Rio, he went to Japan and raced a clean race and took the victory. Michael has done this before. He won some terrific races in the past while on probation with the chief steward. Seems a little punishment always gets Mikey to raise his game a little higher. I found it particularly amusing that Michael struggled with mentioning Target when referring to the Ganassi team during his winners circle interview. I wonder if that is Michael or if that is Kmart. Remember too that he once drove for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. 

I have to say that the track that Honda built is spectacular. It just looks so smooth and the fans are so warm in their reception to CART. You know we have seen this before. In fact we see this whenever CART travels outside the US. The turnout and the crowd reception is spectacular. It is sad that we can't put together more race weekends like that, outside of maybe Long Beach. Second, the racing in Japan is always a good one and this year was no exception. 

Ganassi Racing proved to be on target this week with a commanding performance by Juan Montoya and an equally commanding performance by Jimmy Vasser. I noticed during lap 14 that Jimmy's gear selection had a serious hesitation. ABC stays with Jimmy's onboard and we are able to watch another circuit with Jimmy. Again Jimmy grabs a gear at the same place on the front stretch but no hesitation. Later in the broadcast, Parker mentions that he thought Jimmy's gearbox was sounding a little off. Could that have led to a problem with the powerplant or did Jimmy retire with a sour gearbox. One may never know for sure, as I am sure Ganassi is committed to a positive image for their engine partner and would not say anything to hinder their relationship. Lap 178 saw the pit crew of Montoya make a very uncharacteristic mistake. Allegedly, the air jack hose knocked off an electrical lead on the pop off valve. Fluke? Probably. Has anybody noticed the aero tweaks on the Ganassi Lola's? Two weeks ago in Rio, Ganassi wasn't running a kick-up in front of the rear wheels (is kick-up the proper terminology?). This week, however, there was a kick-up in place. I am not sure what is going on there. I imagine that Rio would have required a little more downforce in the rear of the car. Whereas, this might be a drag on performance at such a high-speed track like Japan. Speaking of aero tweaks. I noticed that PacWest and Mo Nunn Racing were running a strange IRL-like aerodynamic device in place of the traditional kick-up.

Oh the rookies…I have to say that I am disappointed thus far in Servia's performance. Has this guy managed to finish a race this season? I think it is a shame to see someone with a great team and a great sponsor package go to waste. At this point in the season, shouldn't it seem obvious to him that cold tires are bad and warm tires are good? Oh and did I forget to mention that the best way to warm tires is actually using them for more than just a handful of laps. Shinji Nakano, another rookie, needs to realize that blocking will not be tolerated in CART. That might be something that needs to be unlearned from his F1 days. On lap 7, Shinji has trouble getting up to speed and a group led by Fernandez goes to make a move. Shinji nearly checked Fernandez into the outside wall. Again, on lap 27 Shinji is about to get past by Tracy and Shinji slams the door on Tracy's nose. This is totally uncalled for and could prove dangerous if he doesn't sharpen his on-track etiquette. What happened to Tagliani? Come on Tag get over it. Most of us don't remember Rio. 

I don't want to pick on the winner too much, but what was Michael doing during the first pit stop? He was pinching Brack real bad on pit road. Come on Michael, with all the problems you've had on pit road, you need to be a bit more careful. I thought that the right or outside lane was the one to use when driving on pit road. Michael was straddling the dividing line. Or maybe, Mikey was trying to rattle Brack's cage a little.

For the most part after the first pit stop the race was uneventful. There was just some good clean racing going on. I would like to note however a few honorable mentions. 

Bravo to Patrick Racing and ABC for the helmet cam. This provides the viewers with a unique look into a pit stop. I think this could be useful for CART in their analysis of making pit stops safer.

Roberto Moreno is proving every race that he deserved the full-time ride with Patrick. This week he didn't have the best car, but he persevered and the Visteon crew pulled off some terrific pit work to keep Roberto running up front. 

I am glad that this year will provide Christiano da Matta with a chance to prove his worth. Toyota has stepped up their game and that is good for this team. It is just a shame that Servia can't supplement da Matta's work. OK, I won't keep going on that.

Lola is back, and to that I say welcome. This is Lola's first win since Michael took the victory in Vancouver in 1996! What a great accomplishment for this storied name. From the problems in 97 and now there return to Victory lane in Japan. I am sure we will see more Lola victories this season. The question is will it be Ganassi or Newman-Haas?

Well we will see you next week when the series returns to Nazareth. I imagine that it will be a different track from what we saw last month. I like the race in Nazareth because it is tight and the drivers are always in traffic. My prediction is…well that's not important. See you in the forums. 

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