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Danica leads opening day in Motegi
Danica Patrick continued her success in Japan, leading the opening day of preparations for the April 21 Indy Japan 300.

Patrick, who used a strong run at Motegi to set up her breakthrough performance at the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, lapped the 1.5-mile egg-shaped oval in 26.9585 seconds, 202.979 mph, in her No. 7 Team Motorola Honda-powered Dallara. Super Aguri Panther Racing's Kosuke Matsuura, the only Japanese driver in the IndyCar Series, was second-quick with a lap of 27.0260, 202.472.

Defending race winner Helio Castroneves (202.295 mph), Tony Kanaan (201.972 mph) and two-time Motegi winner Dan Wheldon (201.444) rounded out the top five as teams battled cool and windy conditions throughout both practice sessions.

The day was not without incident. Vitor Meira was forced to his backup car after an accident in Turn 2 during the opening minutes of the first practice session. Meira was not injured when his car made contact with the SAFER Barrier.


DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fastest of the day): "The team gave me a good car to start with and we made small changes during the morning session. In this afternoon's practice, we didn't change anything. It follows along with a saying that my dad has, 'However you unload is how you run.' We unloaded with a good car and it's been a fairly straightforward day."

KOSUKE MATSUURA (No. 55 Panasonic Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone, second-fastest): "I couldn't get a good result in the morning session but the car's running great all day. I am satisfied with the setup and I could run pretty well alone so I want to run in traffic during the practice session tomorrow. The team has been working so hard on my car to win the race in my home country so I am looking forward to the Qualifying tomorrow and hopefully get a good starting position."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, third-fastest): "The weekend has started out the same way that it ended for me last year. The car seemed to be very consistent. The conditions were very tough this morning, especially since I was in the first group. The track was very green, so I had to be very careful. After that Team Penske decided to take it easy and make the car work for the conditions, so far we've done that."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone, fourth-fastest): "We worked on race setup all day and I don't think we're missing anything in the Team 7-Eleven car.  It's going to be a matter of choosing what you want to have.  It's going to be tough but I think we're on the right path."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, sixth-fastest): "We only worked on the race setup so far on the NYSE car but I think we're going to be pretty good based on our teammate's cars.  We have another practice tomorrow morning to work on qualifying but I think we've got a pretty good race car."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, seventh fastest): "We worked on race set up trying to get the car to handle good in traffic and by ourselves.  We got a lot better in the second session and feel like we have a good idea of what we need to do tomorrow.  I'm pretty happy with where we ended up considering how the session started."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi Panther Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "Despite what happened today, it was a great effort from the Delphi Panther team. The crash was not a good situation for anybody, but Kosuke had a great day so we know the setup is there. Even last year we had a great setup here so it's my job now to shake it off and move ahead. This is a perfect example of how much having two cars helps."

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