Briscoe Spins, Dixon Wins To Take Point Lead In Japan

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 19 2009
Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race in Japan and will head to the season finale with the points lead.

Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race in Japan and will head to the season finale with the points lead.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Motegi, Japan – A spin by championship leader Ryan Briscoe on the pit road opened the door to IndyCar championship contenders Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, who gladly obliged by finishing one-two at the Twin Ring Motegi.

Race winner Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Franchitti moved up to one-two in the points standings as well headed into the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway after an 18th place finished dropped Briscoe to third. Any one of the three drivers can clinch the IndyCar title by winning at Homestead.

“We’ve all made mistakes like that,” said Dixon, who admitted to a “warm feeling” when he saw Briscoe’s Penske Racing entry throwing sparks and dragging the rubber cone he hit during his pit road mishap midway in the race. “Each of us has made mistakes over the course of the season and we’re all pretty equal when something like that happens,” said Dixon.

Briscoe managed to remain upbeat about the season finale after his 25-point lead turned into an eight-point deficit. “It’s a flip of the coin as to who wins at Homestead between Scott, Dario and myself,” said Briscoe. “I’m going to be more motivated than ever.”

Starting from the pole, Dixon led the most laps (139) and eclipsed his teammate by 1.447 seconds after losing the lead for 53 laps to Franchitti midway in the race. Following his calamitous pit stop, Briscoe finished 15 laps behind.

It took only a split second for Briscoe to go from leading the race to the tail end of the field. He was the last to head down the pit road when a caution flew on lap 106 of 200. In an effort to beat the pace car out of the pit road and retain the lead after the yellow had slowed the field, the Aussie hit the wall and damaged the left front suspension badly enough to force his Penske Racing pit crew to rebuild his left front upright.

“I gassed it a little too much,” said Briscoe, who had trailed the Franchitti and Dixon tandem by half a lap before the round of green flag pit stops began.

The second round of stops proved to be pivotal for Franchitti as well. After leading coming into the pits, his LifeLink entry got balked briefly by Rafael Matos down the back straight, enabling Dixon to pass underneath in Turn 3. “It’s not a surprise,” said Franchitti of Matos. “It’s not the first time that’s happened with him this year.”

The Scotsman had taken the lead on the first stops of green. Pitting one lap after Dixon, Franchitti took advantage of Dixon’s cold tires on the latter’s out lap with one extra lap on warm tires. On this occasion, he slipped in just ahead of Dixon at the pit road exit.

“We could see that (Scott) was very strong today,” said Franchitti “He was better in clean air and probably my car in traffic was better. It was a matter of whoever was in front.”

For his part, Dixon said he fell behind when his crew decided on a tire pressure change on his first stop to fix a tight chassis. “All I did on the radio was complain, complain, complain,” he said. After the tire pressure change didn’t work, his Ganassi crew changed the front wing on his second stop and that gave Dixon the set-up he wanted.

When Franchitti got balked by Matos, Dixon took advantage. He then saw the problem on Briscoe’s machine while circulating behind the pace car. Dixon, who led the final 37 laps following the third and final round of stops, was lucky, too. A cut tire began leaking air with two laps to go and by time Dixon took the checkers, he had lost eight pounds of air pressure. “I backed off and we had enough of a cushion to make it,” said Dixon.

Graham Rahal took third in the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing entry ahead of teammate Oriol Servia and front row starter Mario Moraes of KV Racing. Defending race winner Danica Patrick finished where she started her Andretti Green Racing entry in sixth place.

“It’s nice to get our first podium on a super speedway and second of the season on an oval,” said Rahal after his first trip to the Japanese track.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 19 2009
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