IndyCar Championship race heads to Far East
Note to IndyCar Series championship contenders Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti: It's beneficial to start up front. Though all three are aware of that fact, they haven't been too successful in accomplishing a strong starting spot at the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval.
Team Penske's Briscoe, who takes a 25-point lead over Franchitti into the Indy Japan 300 on Sept. 19, has started 15th and 13th in his races on the mountaintop track, with a high finish of ninth (2008). In his 2007 series championship-winning season, Franchitti started seventh and finish third. Those were highs among his four races.
Dixon, who trails Briscoe by 33 points, started from the pole in the inaugural IndyCar Series race in 2003 (his first championship season), but finished 15th. Last year, in his second title season, Dixon started second and finished third. In between were highs of second (start in 2006) and fourth (finish in 2007).
"It has been good as far as results, but I've had big crashes and bad races there, and the good ones we've had I've never won, "Dixon said. "It's a track we've been going to since 2001 (two years in CART before switching to the IndyCar Series) and I would have loved to have won - especially last year when we really had a dominant car and led a lot of laps but strategy-wise it just didn't work out. Hopefully, it can repay us this year.
"It is definitely one of the toughest tracks we go to. It's 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 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."
In '08, drivers starting on the front row won eight of the 17 races (including six from the pole). Add four victories from drivers starting third and fourth.
In four races on 1.5-mile ovals this season, Briscoe has led 321 laps (won two), Dixon has led 290 laps (won one) and Franchitti has led 44 laps (high finish of fourth at Chicagoland Speedway on Aug. 29).
Briscoe is the only title contender to lead laps at all four tracks and earned bonus points for leading the most laps at two (Texas and Chicagoland). Dixon led the most laps at Kansas and Kentucky. Briscoe's teammate, Helio Castroneves, has led 85 laps on 1.5-mile ovals with a victory at Texas. Castroneves is a three-time pole winner at Twin Ring Motegi and has capitalized on one for a victory in 2006.
"It's a very challenging oval with two different ends, so it's difficult to get the setup right to handle well in both Turns 1-2 and Turns 3-4," Castroneves said. "We've achieved some great results in Japan and I'm hoping for more of the same this year. Team Penske has been performing well on the 1.5-mile ovals all year, which gives us a lot of confidence heading into the race."
Through 15 IndyCar Series races, the winner has started:
First - 5 times
Second - 3 times
Third - 2 times
Fourth - 5 times
Through six races at Twin Ring Motegi, the winner has started:
First - 2 times
Third - 1 time
Fifth - 1 time
Sixth - 1 time
Seventh - 1 time