Dixon leads Ganassi 1-2 in Honda Indy Japan 200
KV Racing's Mario Moraes rounded out the top-5.
Ryan Briscoe had the IndyCar Series championship sewn up just past the halfway point of the Indy Japan 300. He just had to remain clear of trouble, such as a yellow cone with "end of pit road speed limit" in bold block lettering on it.
It bit the sophomore Team Penske driver, shunting his title drive heading into the season finale Oct. 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Briscoe's miscue exiting the pits on Lap 106 -- when the No. 6 car swerved, brushed the inside retaining wall and ran over the time line cone -- was costly for position and points.
Scott Dixon, who entered the seventh annual race at the 1.52-mile oval 33 points behind Briscoe in the standings, gave Target Chip Ganassi Racing its first victory in Japan. Teammate Dario Franchitti was 1.4475 seconds back and Graham Rahal finished third.
Briscoe will now go to the last round in Miami next month third in the series, eight points behind Dixon and three adrift of Franchitti.
Briscoe began the 200-lap race at the Twin Motegi track in fourth place on the grid, behind Dixon, Brazilian Mario Morales and Franchitti.
A safety car period left Briscoe in the lead when he entered the pits for new tires and fuel.
But he lost control of the car on new cold tires just as he was exiting pit lane and brushed the wall.
"It was pretty frustrating," said Briscoe. "With the accident leaving the pits, it was a huge opportunity for me to get the race lead. I just gassed it too much leaving my box, and the car spun. I hit the wall."
He also collected a timing cone which he carted around the track for several laps under his front wing.
Briscoe was forced to make a pit stop for a penalty and a longer one to have the left front suspension replaced.
He went into Saturday's penultimate round with a 25-point lead over Franchitti with Dixon third.
Dixon now has 570 points, Franchitti 565 and Briscoe 562. The eight points separating first place Scott Dixon from third-place Ryan Briscoe is the second-closest spread between in series history. Only the 2003 season had a closer margin between first and third.
"Tremendous day for Team Target. It's what we needed to do. It doesn't matter to me where I am, just as long we come out on top," said Dixon, posting his fifth win of the season.
"A 1-2 (finish for Team Target). It's a track I've always wanted to win on. I kind of put Motegi just below the Indy 500. It's a very difficult circuit.
"I remember coming here in the early years and competing for different engine manufacturers and how much emphasis is put on this race."
The trio will now fight out the crown at the season-closing round at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 10.
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, winner Indy Japan 300): "A fantastic day for Team Target. A 1-2. For me it's tremendous. It's a track I've always wanted to win in. I kind of put Motegi just below the Indy 500. It's a very difficult circuit. I remember coming here in the early years and competing for different engine manufacturers and how much emphasis is put on this race. If you have a fast car, you can still get to the front. Put on a good show. Over the moon. Definitely a good day for points and very happy."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Lifelock, finished second): I think we could see the Target cars were very strong. Both cars were very equally matched. Probably my car more so in traffic, and Scott maybe a little bit in clean air. But both cars, whichever one was in front was going to win. I managed to go longer than Scott in the first run. It was looking good. We came out of the pits after the second stop having pulled a pretty substantial gap. I was coming up to lap the No. 2 car, and I went to go on the inside and he came down, so I moved up, he moved up. He kept moving up until I hit a bump and ended up in the marbles. I managed to gather it back up, by which point Scott had a massive run and passed me. It was unfortunate to lose the lead that way, but we've seen that all year from him, to be honest. After that, it's just trying to pass Scott. We tried on the pits, on the restarts. We were so equal today, I needed traffic in front of us to slow Scott so I could get a run on him, and there wasn't any. "
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team, finished third): "The McDonald's boys have been working awfully hard this entire time, and we've had the pace and it's nice to get our first podium on a superspeedway and second of the season on an oval. It's such an interesting track and a change from what we're used to with the classic superspeedway shape. The McDonald's boys did a great job in the pits today and we saved a lot of fuel which put us in that position."
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 06 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing, finished fourth): "It was a very good race. I'm extremely happy for the team to finish just behind Ganassi is very good. I'm very pleased, but obviously, I would have preferred to be on the podium but Graham had a run on me there at the end and he got the best out of it. I'm happy with the performance. I'm happy that the team gave me the opportunity. We had a good four races and definitely gained momentum, and I hope we can continue the momentum next year. I think we can be contenders for the championship if we start together from Day 1. That's what I really hope will happen. I'm happy how things have gone. I want to thank Carl and Bernadette Haas, Mike Lanigan and McDonald's for the opportunity."
MARIO MORAES (No. 5 Azul Tequila/Votorantim/KVRT, finished fifth): "I am happy for the KV Racing Technology team. They did a great job all weekend. We started second, but I fell in line in third place at the start of the race. Then on the first pit stop we had a problem refueling and had to come back in for more fuel. That put us two laps down. But, the whole team fought back and we got some luck with a yellow flag to get back on the lead lap in fuel sequence and finished fifth. It is our third consecutive top-five finish, so I am happy about that. I am also looking forward to going to Homestead. I think we are going to have a very good car there, so we can finish the season off really strong.
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola, finished sixth): "The No. 7 car was strong all day; unfortunately it just wasn't strong enough to defend my win from last year. We could have had a run on Mario (Moraes) but I got caught in traffic and just wasn't able to gain the position. Overall it was a good day and a solid finish for us."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, finished seventh): "Today wasn't a bad showing for the Venom boys, especially considering our starting position. A better qualifying run obviously would have made our day a lot easier, but we were able to work through some traffic and make the best it. Had that last yellow fallen a couple laps later I think it would have been a much brighter outcome for the #26 car, but you can't depend on yellows."
DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, finished eighth): "It was really good to be back and running up front again, and obviously from the entire Panther Racing team standpoint I feel everybody did an excellent job. The engineering staff made a big change last night for the race and it was very positive and I could see that it made the car very nice to drive today and certainly when catching lapped traffic I was able to make a lot of time up. Unfortunately it was one of those things for us today; we got caught on the yellow flag. But like I said everybody here has come here and put a lot of effort into this weekend and unfortunately they weren't rewarded. We again showed that we can run with the best."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, finished 10th): "We were shooting for a top-10 finish for Team Penske here in Japan and we got it today. It was very difficult to pass out there but we did the best job we could. The team made some great calls and we had good pit stops. It's a shame that Ryan lost the points lead, but we know we will be strong at Homestead and our goal is to bring home a championship for Team Penske."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, finished 18th): Yeah, it was pretty frustrating. With the accident leaving the pits, it was a huge opportunity for me to get the race lead. I just gassed it too much leaving my box, and the car spun. I hit the wall. We had to change the front upright. The team did a great job doing it in the time they did, but unfortunately that was our day done pretty much. Just sort of brought the car home without pushing too hard at the end. The good thing is that it's only eight points to Scott. I feel real good going into Homestead. We've been strong on all the one and a halves this year. This track is unique. Ganassi had the upper hand on us this weekend. Homestead, Team Penske I'm confident is going to be the team to beat. Eight points is the difference between first and second. It looks like is it's going to be a pretty tough battle to see who can win the race."
Winner's average speed: 163.400 mph
Time of race: 1:51:37.6411
Margin of victory: 1.4475 seconds
Cautions: 2 caution flags for 23 laps
Lead changes: 7 among 4 drivers
Lap leaders: Dixon 1-49, Franchitti 50-102, Briscoe 103-106,
Dixon 107, Briscoe 108, Dixon 109-160, Rahal 161-163,
Point standings: Dixon 570, Franchitti 565, Briscoe 562,
Castroneves 403, Patrick 381, Andretti 368, Rahal 366, Kanaan
354, Wheldon 342, Wilson 334
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