Japanese race takes on new role
Twin Ring Motegi is unlike any track the IndyCar Series has visited this year, which will provide a fitting battleground for the championship contenders.
Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske has a 25-point lead over Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti while his teammate Scott Dixon is third, 33 points back.
"It is a tough place, it's demanding," Dixon said. "You still have the main guys running up there. The race car goes off there really bad at some points throughout the race. That is the challenging part."
The 1.5-mile oval features frontstraights each measuring 1,969 feet and 80-feet wide. The frontstretch is banked at 1.7 degrees with the backstretch at 5 degrees. The turns are 10 degrees in banking.
"It is definitely one of the toughest tracks we go to," Dixon said. "It's funny because it is a 1½-mile oval but it is shaped like an egg and very different. Turns 3 and 4 are very difficult but Turns 1 and 2 are so easy and wide open you get a tow going into Turn 3.
"It's completely different than any track we go to. You have half the downforce you would have at Milwaukee or Phoenix. It's really on the edge. There is a big bump going into Turn 3. I think you need to have a lot of confidence on that track. It's a tough track and if you shake your confidence at all going in there it takes a lot of commitment going into Turns 3 and 4. You have to stay committed and some years we go there we are running wide open over 200 miles an hour, which is pretty crazy."
The challenging circuit will reward the driver, team and strategy because all will be equally important.
"Motegi always puts on great shows so I'm looking forward to that," said Franchitti, the 2007 series champion. "All three guys in the championship will be good there in addition to six or seven other people. It's open season really. The different turns offer a challenge to set up the car but it also makes great racing.
"I think it's cool. The Japanese fans are mad about their racing so the fact we get to go there and it is part of the championship chase, it's good for them and for us."
The Indy Japan 300 was moved this year from April to September, which will provide a different weather variable. Also, nine drivers are expected to make their debut on the racetrack.
"Those guys are having the battle. I'm not in the mix so I can do everything I can to help (Briscoe) out and get him the title," said three-time pole sitter Helio Castroneves, who won the race in 2006. "For the Ganassi boys, they are battling each other for the title. If that becomes an issue, it would be a good issue for us."