Penske Sweeps Qualifying In Motegi

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 18 2010

Will Power qualified third fastest for the IZOD IndyCar Series race in Motegi, Japan. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Motegi, Japan –  Moments after Will Power qualified third for the Indy Japan 300, Ryan Briscoe revealed Team Penske’s not-so-secret “strategy” for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series race.

“Three-wide the whole time,” said Briscoe, who officially will start alongside pole-sitter Helio Castroneves in the season’s penultimate round at Twin Ring Motegi.

“That’s potentially one option,” Castroneves deadpanned, as he and Briscoe attempt to “protect” points-leader Power from Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

“I’m good with that,” said Power, two races removed from what would be his first IndyCar championship.

“Our goal is not (to have) the red-and-white cars finish in front of Will,” said Castroneves, referring to the Target Twins. “So, that’s what we’re going to do. We don’t need to panic, we just need to execute. So the ball is in our court now and just can we make it happen. But it’s great.”

Briscoe said the actual strategy is to let the race play itself out. “We’ve got good cars and we’ve been fast in practice,” said Briscoe, who led Saturday afternoon’s one-hour session after Power paced the morning round. “As for me, I’ve just got to follow these guys and keep Dario behind.”

Should make for an intriguing afternoon of racing around the egg-shaped, 1.5-mile TRM oval for 200 laps/300 miles. Castroneves, Briscoe and Power relegated Franchitti to fourth, as the Scotsman continued his late-season drive to cut deeper into Power’s 17-point championship lead. Only Sunday’s race here and the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 2 remain in Franchitti’s attempt to secure his third title since 2007.

Castroneves bagged his record 29th career IndyCar Series pole, and second of the season, with a two-lap qualifying effort of 54.1803-seconds/201.992 mph. Briscoe put up numbers of 54.2873-seconds/201.594 mph to earn the outside Row 1 start. Power _ last driver to take a shot at the PEAK Performance Pole Award _ ran 54.3226-seconds/201.463 mph to complete Penske’s second sweep of the season. Power, Castroneves and Briscoe qualified 1-2-3 on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in July.

For the record, the Penske Dallara/Hondas were the only three cars to crack 201 mph. Franchitti wound up fourth after a lap in 54.4574-seconds/200.964 mph, followed by Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport at 54.6689-seconds/200.187 mph.

Andretti Autosport teammates Tony Kanaan (200.011 mph) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (199.623 mph) qualified sixth and seventh, respectively. Kanaan won this race in 2007.

They were followed by E.J. Viso of PDVSA/KV Racing Technology (199.487 mph) in eighth; two-time Motegi winner Dan Wheldon of Panther Racing (199.225 mph) in ninth and Japanese star Takuma Sato of Lotus/KV Racing Technology (199.191 mph) in 10th. Sato thrilled his loyal countrymen by squeezing into the top 10 in a Dallara/Honda that was rebuilt following a crash in Turn 1 five laps into the first practice.

Scott Dixon, the defending event champion and Franchitti’s Ganassi teammate, will start 11th after hot-lapping at 199.020 mph.

Power, who never had turned a lap at TRM until Saturday morning, generally was pleased by the day’s results.

“Track position is important,” said Power, who is winless in 20 IndyCar oval starts. “But the main thing is I have my two teammates around me, helping me out. So that’s the key. Those guys are great.

“The track had a lot more grip than expected. I think that I was a little bit geared wrong, but everyone’s the same. So I felt I could have gone quicker. But it’s for me very good to come here and be ahead of the Ganassi guys, especially Dario. Yeah, that’s what we need to do and we need to do that tomorrow.”

Castroneves, who won this event in 2006, noted the three Penske drivers might employ three different strategies…just to keep the Ganassi camp guessing.

“Well, from the practice today it seems to be very difficult (to pass),” said Castroneves, who earned his fourth pole at TRM in five years. “All the cars seem to be very equal. It is a difficult place to pass. But somehow the tires seem to be better, and I think it will be a very challenging race.

“So, whoever has a good car on the track – it might not be the fastest one – I’m sure he’s going to be in good shape in the end.”

Briscoe offered that the bigger-than-usual field will factor into every team’s think tank.

“This is the biggest IndyCar field we’ve had in Japan in my experience, 25 cars,” Briscoe said. “So lapped traffic will become a factor in the race, which could mix things up, I think. That could become the best possibility for passing in the front to happen. So it’s going to be important to get through traffic well, and of course, pit stops also will be very important.”

Power, whose season will be on the line with each difficult pass, agreed with his teammates on all counts.

“And sometimes this race does come down to strategy,” Power said, in all seriousness. “So I just think as a team if we just don’t make any mistakes, I think we can all finish in a very good position. I think that’s going to be the key to winning this race.”

Qualifying Saturday for the Indy Japan 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.52-mile Twin Ring Motegi, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, and speed:

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Honda, 201.992

2. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara/Honda, 201.594

3. (12) Will Power, Dallara/Honda, 201.463

4. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara/Honda, 200.964

5. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 200.187

6. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, 200.011

7. (37) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 199.623

8. (8) EJ Viso, Dallara/Honda, 199.487

9. (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara/Honda, 199.225

10. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 199.191

11. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 199.020

12. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara/Honda, 198.935

13. (34) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara/Honda, 198.794

14. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara/Honda, 197.950

15. (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara/Honda, 197.556

16. (02) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 197.402

17. (06) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara/Honda, 197.361

18. (22) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, 196.850

19. (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara/Honda, 196.813

20. (32) Mario Moraes, Dallara/Honda, 196.460

21. (36) Roger Yasukawa, Dallara/Honda, 196.296

22. (24) Paul Tracy, Dallara/Honda, 195.709

23. (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 195.483

24. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara/Honda, 193.561

25. (18) Milka Duno, Dallara/Honda, 192.527

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 18 2010
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