News from Motegi - Thursday From Sao Paulo by way of Zurich, Helio Castroneves arrived at Twin Ring Motegi needing a shave but otherwise ebullient. The Team Penske driver was among the judges for the Miss Universe Pageant on Sept. 12 in Brazil.
Leila Lopes of Angola was crowned Miss Universe 2011 from a field of 89 competitors. The 60th anniversary pageant, hosted by NBC "Today" anchor Natalie Morales and the Bravo network's Andy Cohen, was broadcast live on NBC and distributed to about 170 countries.
Castroneves was joined by broadcaster Connie Chung, Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana, actresses Vivica Fox, Lea Salonga and Adrienne Maloof, and 2003 Miss Universe Amelia Vega as judges.
Castroneves astutely said he found his own Miss Universe, girlfriend Adriana Henao, a few years ago and he appreciated the “amazing opportunity” in his home city that plays host to an IZOD IndyCar Series race.
“It was very interesting to see the different aspects of the competition," said Castroneves, who was on the other side of judging during his "Dancing with the Stars" run in 2007. "The 89 women who were there represented their country. It’s not about only one thing, to be beautiful, but also as well you’ve got to represent well and have a message.
"It was tough; I wanted to give a 10 to everyone. Miss Angola was so humble and her smile was very charismatic. It was the right choice."
Castroneves said pageant organizers didn't allow contestants and judges mingle before the event. Afterward, though ...
"It finished pretty late so like a good boy I went straight home because I had to prepare to come to Japan. "But I have to say I was very happy Brazil was able to host such a big event. For me, it was just great. It was quite an honor.”
Moves at Team Penske
Rick Rinaman returns to the No. 6 Team Penske car as chief mechanic and outside front tire changer.
Matt Jonsson will move to be the chief mechanic of the Chevrolet engine development program for the new IZOD IndyCar Series car. Team Penske is the Chevy anchor team for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season that features engine manufacturer competition between Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus.
A wing and a prayer
A.J. Foyt’s ranch, as well as the homes of son (A.J. Foyt Racing team director) Larry Foyt and several crew members, were under evacuation orders for the last week because of threats from wildfires in the Houston area.
More than 14 million acres in Texas have been scorched.
"I had to stay at home because if I had left you couldn't get back in," Larry Foyt said. "Luckily, we had A.J. the fireman running around."
They team has a yellow Dollar General-logoed front wing assembly on loan from Sarah Fisher Racing as a spare for the race weekend because it's gone through almost all of its inventory. The Indy Japan is the third road/street course event in a row, 10th and final one of the season. Sarah Fisher Racing isn't entered.
"We'll pay for it if we use it," Foyt said.
Revving up a classic
Al Unser Jr. heard the roar as Honda Collection Hall associates revved up the engine of the 1965 Formula One car on the Twin Ring Motegi Road course and ordered the van driver to stop.
He had to get a look at the Honda RA272, which provided Honda with its first Formula One victory (Mexican Grand Prix, with Richie Ginter as the driver). Dario Franchitti took a demonstration lap in the car for a future Road & Track feature article.
This will be Franchitti's 50th IZOD IndyCar Series race with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He has 12 wins, 27 podiums, and 43 top-10s in the span.
New primaries for the race weekend
Each of the 26 entries receives six sets of Firestone Firehawk primary (black sidewall), three sets of alternate (red sidewall) and five sets of rain tires for the race weekend.
The primary tires are new for this race, and the alternate tire was used at Edmonton. The rain tire is also new for this year, and this is the last time this particular spec will be used this season.
“We’re tremendously excited to make our debut on Twin Ring Motegi’s road course, as it will give the Japanese fans their first chance to see our alternate tire program in action,” said Firestone Racing executive director Al Speyer, who at the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 4 marked Firestone’s 200th IndyCar victory since re-entering the sport in 1996.
Fifteen uses of overtake assist; notes
• Drivers will have 15 uses for 15 seconds duration of the Honda overtake assist for the 63-lap race on the 2.983-mile road course. One overtake assist will be available on the race day warm-up.
• Tony Kanaan, who raced from the rear of the field to finish third in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, is the Firestone Tire-ific Move of the Race recipient via a poll on www.indycar.com.
• The field for IZOD IndyCar Series races this season has averaged 27 entries (there are 26 for Twin Ring Motegi).
• Andretti Autosport has four victories – most of any IZOD IndyCar Series team – at Twin Ring Motegi (on the oval): Dan Wheldon in 2004 and ’05, Tony Kanaan in 2007 and Danica Patrick in 2008. Michael Andretti won the 2000 Champ Car race at the track.
• Castroneves had four pole starts, producing victories in 2006 and 2010, on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval. He needs to win in the final three races of the season to extend his series-record streak to 12 years.
• The Nos. 3 and 6 Team Penske cars are carrying Hitachi as an associate sponsor this weekend.
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