Castroneves leads Penske 1-2-3 in Motegi qualifying
On the demanding 1.5-mile Motegi, Japan where the car is not everything like on the 100% throttle ovals, Helio Castroneves led a Penske Racing 1-2-3 in IndyCar qualifying Saturday. Ryan Briscoe will start 2nd and points leader Will Power 3rd.
Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti, who is hot on the heels of points leader Will Power, will start alongside him in Row 2, position 4.
He was followed by the three Andretti cars of Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay 5-6-7, further evidence that the car is still a high percentage of the equation.
Castroneves earned his fourth Pole Award in the past five years on the oblong shaped 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval with a two-lap average of 201.992 mph. The pole winner has won three times and finished second in the seven previous years.
Castroneves started from the pole in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and won the 2006 race.
Briscoe actually ran faster than Castroneves on his second lap, but enough slower on his first to come in second.
“This track is so challenging (because it's not 100% throttle) and I'm very, very excited that we are starting in the top three spots,” said Castroneves, who won in 2006. “Hopefully, we finish like that as well in the race.
“We're going to try to get the win for Team Penske, but the big deal in the points is tomorrow for the race. We're going to make sure that we just execute. We don't need to panic, we just need to execute. So the ball is in our court now and just we can make it happen.”
Ryan Briscoe (201.594), who blew a chance to wrap up the drivers’ title here last year, will start outside of Castroneves. Power, the final qualifier, posted a two-lap average of 201.463 mph good for 3rd.
“As a team, we're due for a good finish,” said Power, who’s seeking his first IZOD IndyCar Series oval victory. “When Helio went, I was like he's in good shape. He's taking the points from Dario. I'm very happy about the starting positions. We hope we can execute in the race and get some points back.
“I think (in the race it’s) really difficult to pass. I think you're going to have to move through the traffic well. And sometimes this race does come down to strategy. So, as a team, if we just don't make any mistakes, I think we can all finish in a very good position. I think that's going to be the key to winning this race.”
“I think KV Racing Technology won the day,” said Sato, whose army of fans greeted his qualifying effort with a standing ovation. “It’s a great result for the whole team. After we had such a difficult situation in the morning, the whole team, crew members from all three cars, came together to work on my car.
“Even though I only ran a few laps during the second practice, I want to thank the engineers for giving me a car that gave me the confidence to attack the most challenging oval in the series during my qualifying run. The next step is to review all the data from today and hopefully we will have a good race.”
Motegi is a challenging track because one end is a high-banked 100% throttle corner—Turns One and Two—while the other end, Turns Three and Four, are much tighter. Motegi demands a compromise setup for the two different corners.
The track is only used once a year and hence is green. During the race the track will "rubber in," increasing grip levels. Crews will have to compensate.
And if that isn't enough, there is a bump between Turns One and Two, while the drivers seek to remain 100% throttle.
For the first time, the race is actually being run on Sunday afternoon in Japan. Traditionally it ran on Saturday with Sunday reserved as a rain date. The IndyCar Indy Japan 300 will air at 11 p.m. EDT on Versus TV in the United States.
POLE QUALIFYING QUOTES:
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, PEAK Performance Pole Award winner): "It is a great team effort. A 1-2-3 start for Team Penske is awesome. These boys deserve it. They've worked really hard, especially on the ovals. I have to thank the guys at the shop as well. All of the hard work has paid off today. Now we have to make it happen in the race."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, qualified second): "It's really exciting. It's so fast, but it's not an easy track. You really have the wind down there in turn three and four. And today the track improved a lot from practice. The speeds were a lot higher. Helio did an amazing job. He did a one man band on his warm up lap. It was an impressive run. But I sort of knew it from his run that the track was fast, and I really pushed hard out there. Made a little mistake on my first lap with my gears. But really going into the second lap it was exciting to get in the 202's around here. That is really fast on this track. It's just a great event to be in the top three. We as a team have made a lot of changes this year coming to this track. We weren't happy with the performance here last year, and it is a real testament to the engineers that have given us these race cars to come here with. "
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, qualified third): "I'm very happy about the (team's) starting positions. We hope we can execute in the race and get some points back. We've had a pretty good lap time over the last couple of races. We're going to ultimately look to win it. I was very happy when Helio went. I was happy when Dario went out there, wow, it was fast. And when Helio went, I was like he's in good shape. He's taking the points from Dario."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified fourth): "The Target car was great. There's more grip than this morning but the first lap I didn't know how much grip there was, so I was a little conservative with that first one than the second lap. It was a good pick up from practice so we'll see where that puts us. I think we have a better race car than qualifying car. I'm still shaking from qualifying. It's a great race track. It really produces great racing. It really is a place that you have to hang it all out."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, qualified fifth): "From where we had the Venom car balanced, we were able to benefit from the weather getting a bit cooler. We gained some grip and the car really came to us. Qualifying is important here, and overall, we were pleased with our run. This is a tough track to pass on -- you really have to work through Turns 3 and 4. I think if you look you'll see the field is super-close from first to last, so even the guys running a bit off pace will be tough to pass."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, qualified sixth): "I'm happy with that run. That was decent. We got the most out of the car. I'm really happy with the way the team worked this weekend. We really worked together and when that happens, it's a lot more fun."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD, qualified seventh): "That was a pretty good run. We went a little conservative, which was a good thing, and the IZOD car was still really quick. We needed that. I need to thank my teammates for the help with the setup today. We all worked really well together. I think that's a good thing going into next year. It seems everybody is working well together."
E.J. VISO (No. 8 PDVSA - KV Racing Technology, qualified eighth): "We have been strong all day in practice and qualifying. I am happy with the improvements we have done on the PDVSA - KV Racing car. I worked with Takuma (Sato) to help him on the setup, and he had a good qualifying as well. We are now in a strong position for Sunday's race here at Motegi. We have had a good race car on the oval tracks this year, so I expect to be very good for the race. This track has so different turns. Turns 1 and 2 are flat on the throttle and Turns 3 and 4 are much more difficult for a driver. You really have to work with roll bars and weight jacker to adjust the car through the tighter Turns 3 and 4. I feel good going into the Motegi race."
DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, qualified ninth) "Our qualifying run in the National Guard Panther Racing car wasn't bad. We had a really good first practice session and the second session didn't go so well, and that set us back a little bit. I think we might have been a little better off that what our time showed in qualifying. But we'll see tomorrow; anything can happen in the race and we've got a good racecar so we've just got to push forward. I think we'll be good tomorrow in the race, I really do."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified 11th): "Our day has been a little different. We've just been shockingly bad compared to Dario (Franchitti). We're quicker through Turns 3 and 4 but get hosed with the rest of it. It's a day when we've been fighting both ends of the car. The car doesn't feel horrendous, we've just a bit slow."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com, qualified 12th): "The GoDaddy car felt good out there. Qualifying is important here because it's not that easy to pass, so we'll just have to see. The only thing that didn't feel perfect was the downshifting in Turns 3 and 4, so we may need to look at some things there. I didn't go any faster in qualifying than I did in practice, so we'll need to figure out what made us lose a little bit of speed this afternoon."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 NHR/Quick Trim, qualified 16th): "Our out lap was pretty good, but the car understeered so I tried to chase it. With only a couple of clicks of the weight jacker, I had a big moment in Turns 3 and 4 on the first timed lap. The back of the car snapped on me. It was the biggest moment I've had since Homestead in 2008 (crashed in testing prior to the season-opener as rookie). After that, naturally for the second lap, I wanted to get the deal done and bring the car home in one piece. I was really, really hoping for better. We haven't had the pace of last year in race trim. We definitely need to work overnight to figure it out. What worked last year isn't working this year."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic, qualified 17th): "It has been very, very busy for me but in a good way. There are a lot of fans in the grandstand and I am happy about that. I think the lap time was decent in qualifying, but I was expecting to qualifying around 12th. I think we have a quite decent race car. We don't have as much speed as we would like but the car is consistent. I think we can move forward in the race. For sure there is huge pressure since this is my home country."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 HP de Ferran Dragon Racing, qualified 19th): "We had an incident during the first practice session this morning that damaged the car and the crew worked really hard to get us out in time to get some laps during the second session today. So, a big thanks to them. But, we just didn't get enough track time to find everything we needed to get the car where we wanted it. We seem to be missing speed in a couple of the corners. It's really frustrating, but we'll see if we can make any progress tonight. Then I'll just focus on a clean race tomorrow and see how everything plays out.
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 FAZZT Race Team, qualified 23rd): "Today's results were not quite what we were looking for in times. We were struggling a bit with understeer in the first practice session and although we made some positive changes for the second session we still needed to free up the car. The guys worked really hard to try to get the car to where we thought we wanted to be for qualifying but, unfortunately, we went too far. We just have to work that much harder tomorrow to make sure we have a good result for Bowers & Wilkins and TorcUP."
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