Castroneves dominates Japan Indy 300
On a hot and humid day before a record Motegi crowd, Helio Castroneves beat Dario Franchitti by 4.5 seconds to win the Japan IndyCar 300 on Sunday. But Franchitti gained valuable points over point leader Will Power who finished 3rd. Ryan Briscoe was 4th and Danica Patrick rounded out the top-5.
The win was the third of the season for Castroneves, following his victory two weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway, and an April victory at Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park. Castroneves controlled the race almost from start to finish, giving up the lead only to teammate Ryan Briscoe and, briefly, to an out-of-sequence running Raphael Matos. The win moves Castroneves to third in championship points, but was not enough to put him back in title contention, with just one race remaining in the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.
"Team Penske is about execution and they gave me a fantastic car," said Castroneves, who backed up his win at Kentucky Speedway with the dominating win from the pole. "Every time I wanted to go for it, the car was responding."
While Castroneves dominated most of the day for his 25th IndyCar win (tying him with Gordon Johncock), Franchitti, with his 2nd place, not only clinched the 2010 Izod IndyCar AJ Foyt oval track championship, he also closed to within 12 points of Power for the overall title with just one race remaining at Homestead Miami Speedway in two weeks.
“It was a solid day for the Verizon team,” said Power. “I didn’t get to see Helio much. He was gone. I had a good experience at Motegi. I know how to run in traffic now. It’s great for us to put the Verizon car on the podium. I’ve never finished ahead of (Franchitti) on an oval and one day I’ll get it. Hopefully this year because if I don’t, he’ll win (the championship).”
In the pivotal sequence of the event, Castroneves emerged with the race lead following the final pit stop of the day under caution on Lap 150. Briscoe came out of the pits in third place behind Franchitti while the No. 12 crew had their best stop of the race to move Power up to the fourth position. Briscoe tried to get by Franchitti for second place after the Lap 167 race restart but Franchitti drove down low on the track to prevent the pass. Briscoe had to back off and lost momentum as Power was able to get by his teammate to claim third place.
“The finish wasn’t what we were hoping for, but we’re happy that Helio won and Will still leads the championship,” said Briscoe. “It was really exciting out there today. I was racing hard with Dario and it was awesome. We raced each other hard and clean. There are not too many guys out there that I feel comfortable racing with the way we did. Congratulations to Helio and Team Penske for bringing home the victory. The No. 6 car was great today, although our result was a bit unfortunate. We made a run on Dario on the last restart and he took me down to the white line and I had to back out of the throttle to avoid wrecking. Will was able to get by me after Dario blocked and I was not able to catch back up. Overall though, it was a great result for the team.”
The race started clean but on lap 2 Bertrand Baguette crashed in Turn 2 as the bump caught him out on cold tires.
At the halfway point on lap 100 saw Briscoe lead from Castroneves with Matos a close third. Danica Patrick was looking very racy at the track where she has her lone IndyCar victory.
Lap 116 saw the 4th caution when Paul Tracy rubbed the outside wall. Caution flag happy IndyCar threw a caution for no reason whatsoever as race control does their best to ruin the show for the fans. And you wonder why the ratings are so low?
The final restart on lap 168 saw Castroneves lead from Franchitti, Briscoe, Power and Patrick but by the finish Power had passed Briscoe and pressured Franchitti all the way to the finish.
Takuma Sato led home a three-driver Japanese contingent with a 12th-place finish for KV Racing. Graham Rahal made a late-race surge to finish eighth for Newman Haas Racing while Alex Tagliani climbed to 13th at the finish - after starting 23rd - for the Canadian FAZZT Race Team.
Castroneves said that Team Penske remains focused on Power’s run for the championship, which will be decided at Homestead. “He’s 12 points ahead, and it’s better to be 12 points ahead than 12 points behind,” said Castroneves. “He had a great performance today. Anything we can do to help him bring the championship to Team Penske, we’re going to do it.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, winner Indy Japan 300): "Team Penske is about execution and they gave me a fantastic car. Every time I wanted to go for it, the car was responding."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi, finished second): "The race started very well. I was really the only person that could mix it up with Ryan (Briscoe) and Helio (Castroneves) all day. We were very good on restarts. We did make a small mistake on the downforce level today, but we did OK. Helio was just in a class of his own in terms of sheer speed but we could get him on the restarts occasionally. I was fighting as hard as I could with those guys. Will's guys did a great job in the pits and got him back up into contention. We can only control what we do and we did our best.
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, finished third): "I didn't get to see Helio (Castroneves) much. He was gone. I had a good experience at Motegi: I know how to run in traffic now. It's great for us to put the Verizon car on the podium. I've never finished ahead of him (Dario) on an oval and one day I'll get it. Hopefully this year because if I don't, he'll win."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, finished fourth): "It was really exciting out there today. I was racing hard with Dario (Franchitti) and it was awesome. We raced each other hard and clean. There are not too many guys out there that I feel comfortable racing with the way we did. Congratulations to Helio and Team Penske for bringing home the victory. The No. 6 car was great today, although our result was a bit unfortunate. We made a run on Dario on the last restart and he took me down to the white line and I had to back out of the throttle to avoid wrecking. Will was able to get by me after Dario blocked and I was not able to catch back up. Overall though, it was a great result for the team."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com, finished fifth): "I'm pleased. Being a competitor, I always think about what could've, should've, would've been and how it could have been better and where things went a little bit wrong. I thought that the Go.Daddy car ran really well today. I was pleased with the way it handled. When we got in clean air, it was really fast. I think our lap time this year was almost a half-second quicker than the fastest lap time last year. Overall, I think everyone did a really good job. We just kind of lost out on those last pit stops."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, finished seventh): "I'm pleased with our effort today. We did have some issues with our overall speed and we have no idea why, so we have some things to look into when we get back to the shop. The 7-Eleven car was pretty good and we had good stops. The car was better toward the end of each stint, but we never got a green flag stop and that didn't help us either. But, if you look at the results, we're only getting beat by two teams week in and week out. That's frustrating, but we know who they are and we're working on what we need to do to get there."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 NHR/Quick Trim, finished eighth): "I am very happy with our finish to be honest. Really, you have to give all the credit to the Quick Trim team because they're the ones who made up the spots in the pits for me. We didn't quite have a car that was good enough to pass people really. Fourth gear was too long and every time out of Turn 4 I was getting pulled bad so that killed us. Fortunately we got by Marco in the pits and got by Hunter-Reay when he made a mistake. And that's where we had to be all day; we had to wait for others to make mistakes. The team did a great job in the pits so I have to give the credit to them. Going from where we fell back to at the start to move all the way back up to eighth was down to them. I think I only passed a few guys on track so the rest was done in pit lane. The Quick Trim guys did a good job and got us this finish."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD, finished ninth): "It was a pretty frustrating day. That was a lot tougher than I expected it to be. We raced a lot worse than we qualified and that rarely happens with our team. It was really tough in traffic. We were just really struggling to try to find the handle and never quite had it. The IZOD guys did a good job in the pits and we just kind of hung around all day. But, we know some things we want to try next year when we come back and that is very important."
DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, finished 10th): "The National Guard Panther Racing car was well balanced today, but we just carried too much downforce and drag and it made it very hard to race with. Unfortunately sometimes when you're trying hard, like this team always does, it doesn't go for you. It was one of those days. We'll move on and try to close out this IZOD IndyCar Series season in victory lane."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, finished 11th): "It was a really frustrating day for the Venom crew. We had pretty high expectations but things didn't go our way. The car wasn't where we needed it - we made changes in the pits but nothing seemed to help. We'll regroup and move on the Homestead."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 Lotus - KV Racing Technology, finished 12th): "It was a tough race but a great result in the end for the Lotus - KV team. It was a difficult start with the tight pack and the slippery track. I needed to be patient, but I did a lot of overtaking today. That was great fun. I had Nick (Harvey) as my spotter and we worked well together. We lost a few places in the middle of the race, but we always fought back to gain positions. Overall, it was a great achievement for the whole team, and I want to thank them for everything they have done this weekend. Finally, I want to thank all the fans for their tremendous support."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 FAZZT Race Team, finished 13th): "Yeah it was a good race for the Bowers & Wilkins/TorcUP machine. We recovered well from the qualifying although obviously it would have been really nice to start in the top 10. I think that's what we had as a car all day on Saturday, but racing is sometimes recovering from little things. It was a good race, the strategy was good and the boys did a great job in the pits. We had a quick car and considering the track is known to be very difficult to pass, I think we can be very happy that we came back through the field ten positions. Overall, I think we can come away very happy and we finished in front of all the people we needed to finish in front of for the championship. We made up one spot and we'll go into Miami and try to do even better than we did here and wrap up the season doing the best job we can."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic, finished 14th): "For the start of the race I think I was a little too conservative. It was my home Grand Prix and I wanted to make sure I didn't mess up the first stint. After that, the car was getting better and better; I was chasing it with the cockpit adjustments. At one point I was running second and it was awesome. It looked like our pit strategy was working out but it didn't in the end because of the yellow but I was so happy to run in front for the Japanese fans. I think that was the highlight of this race. On the last stint I was able to pass many cars; I just wanted to show the Japanese fans that I'm here. I think this is good momentum to carry to the last race at Homestead."
E.J. VISO (No. 8 PDVSA - KV Racing Technology, finished 15th): "I thought we had a good car today. We had some trouble in the middle of the race and we lost spots. We have been working well with the engineers to get a car to run with the leaders. I think that is possible on a regular basis. Our PDVSA - KV car has been very good on the ovals this year. So I am really looking forward to the Homestead race in two weeks. That is home for me. So I am very excited to race there again."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 HP de Ferran Dragon Racing, finished 18th ) It was a tough race today. We tried to gamble on a strategy and it was working well until the yellow flag for Paul Tracy's incident. That hurt us. So, unfortunately, the strategy didn't pay off. It's really tough to pass on this track, so once we cycled to the back of the pack, it got even more difficult. So, of course we are disappointed that we didn't have a better result, but it definitely could have been worse. This track is very tricky.
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