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Helio Is The Man In Japan

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 19 2010

Helio Castroneves celebrates his IZOD IndyCar Series victory at Twin Ring Motegi. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Motegi, Japan – Helio Castroneves capped a postcard-perfect weekend in the Far East for himself and Team Penske at Twin Ring Motegi Sunday afternoon, winning the IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 in dominating fashion.

Castroneves, who started on-pole, led a race-high 153 of 200 laps around the egg-shaped, 1.52-mile oval to record his third win of the season, second at TRM and second in a row. Castroneves prevailed at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 4 via a savvy fuel strategy, but drove without limits here.

In the process, the Brazilian also became the series’ all-time lap-leader with 3,487, breaking the mark held by three-time champion and former Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr.

“Team Penske is about execution and they gave me a fantastic car,” said Castroneves, alluding to his No. 3 Dallara/Honda. “Every time I wanted to go for it, the car was responding.”

Asked if he ever felt challenged during the event, Castroneves thought for a moment and replied, “Not really.”

That was reflected in Castroneves’  margin of victory over runnerup Dario Franchitti – a comfortable 4.5746-seconds that nevertheless allowed the latter to shave another five points off championship leader Will Power’s advantage.

Power, also of Team Penske, finished 0.4997-seconds behind Franchitti in third. Power will take a tenuous 12-point lead (587-575) over Franchitti into the season-ender Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the IndyCar championship will be determined in the finale for the fifth consecutive year.

“Better to be up by 12 points than behind,” said Castroneves, again promising that he and teammate Ryan Briscoe would do all they can to help Power secure his first IndyCar championship.

“So anything you can do to win the championship for Team Penske, we are going to do it,” Castroneves said.

Neither Franchitti, the reigning and two-time series champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing, nor Power led a lap Sunday in a race featuring only three lead changes among three drivers. Castroneves overtook Briscoe for the lead on Lap 118 and never surrendered it en route to his 19th career series victory and 25th in open-wheel overall.

In the pivotal sequence of the event, Castroneves emerged with the race lead following the final pit stop of the day under caution on Lap 150. Briscoe came out of the pits in third place behind Franchitti while Power’s No. 12 crew had their best stop of the race to move him up to the fourth position. Briscoe tried to get by Franchitti for second place after the Lap 167 race restart but Franchitti drove down low on the track to prevent the pass. Briscoe had to back off and lost momentum as Power was able to get by his teammate to claim third place.

Franchitti’s second-place finish matched his earlier career bests at TRM from 2000 and 2009 but still left the Scotsman 12 points behind Power.

“Will did a good job today,” said Franchitti, who faced a 59-point deficit three races ago. “It is what it is (12 points). It’s an obstacle we’ve got to climb over. We can only control what we do and we did our best.

“I was really the only person that could mix it up with Ryan and Helio all day. We were very good on restarts. We did make a small mistake on the downforce level today, but we did OK. Helio was just in a class of his own in terms of sheer speed but we could get him on the restarts occasionally. I was fighting as hard as I could with those guys.”

Franchitti said he was aware of trying to manage the wear on his Firestone Firehawk tires, especially through the track’s signature Turns 3 and 4.

“The tires work very, very well but if the car goes out of balance, it can cost you lap times,” Franchitti said. “So you just try to get the car as close to balance as you can. I was just working with that and trying not to use/abuse the tires, so that was a challenge. This track, Turns 3 and 4, you’re trying to make it as perfect as you possibly can…to get the perfect line. You’re focused on making it right. That’s the key to this track.”

In addition, the second-place finish earned Franchitti the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series A.J. Foyt Oval Championship. “Yes, proud of that,” Franchitti said of the trophy named after the native Texan and first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. “It’s great to share with my team.”

Power, meanwhile, wound up on the podium after starting third in his first appearance at TRM – his best career finish in 21 series starts on an oval. “You know, over the whole season, you have good and bad races and this was a good race for us – best-ever on an oval,” said Power, a native of Australia. “I didn’t get to see Helio much. He was gone. But I had a good experience at Motegi; I know how to run in traffic now.

“It’s great for us to put the Verizon car on the podium. I’ve never finished ahead of Dario on an oval and one day I’ll get it. I’m getting closer. Definitely getting closer. Hopefully, this year because if I don’t, he’ll win (the title).”

Briscoe, who started second, matched his career-best finish at TRM in fourth, followed by Danica Patrick of Andretti Autosport, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Tony Kanaan of Andretti Autosport, Graham Rahal of Newman/Haas Racing and Dan Wheldon of Panther Racing.

Patrick, who scored her only series victory here in 2008, was pleased by her second top-five result of 2010. “Being a competitor, I always think what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been and how it could have gone better and where things went a little wrong,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com Dallara/Honda. “I thought the car ran really well today. I was pleased with the way it handled. When we got in clean air, it was really fast. I think our lap time this year was almost a half-second quicker than the fastest lap time last year. Overall, I think everyone did a really good job.”

Despite his victory and moving up one spot in the standings to third, Castroneves officially was eliminated from championship contention. That also was the fate of Dixon, a two-time series champion.

Results Sunday of the Indy Japan 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.52-mile Twin Ring Motegi, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1.  (1) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

2.  (4) Dario Franchitti, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

3.  (3) Will Power, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

4.  (2) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

5.  (12) Danica Patrick, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

6.  (11) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

7.  (6) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

8.  (16) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

9.  (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

10.  (9) Dan Wheldon, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

11.  (5) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

12.  (10) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

13.  (23) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

14.  (17) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

15.  (8) E.J. Viso, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

16.  (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

17.  (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

18.  (19) Raphael Matos, Dallara/Honda, 200, Running

19.  (25) Milka Duno, Dallara/Honda, 197, Running

20.  (21) Roger Yasukawa, Dallara/Honda, 195, Running

21.  (15) Alex Lloyd, Dallara/Honda, 131, Contact

22.  (22) Paul Tracy, Dallara/Honda, 114, Contact

23.  (24) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara/Honda, 85, Mechanical

24.  (20) Mario Moraes, Dallara/Honda, 66, Contact

25.  (13) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara/Honda, 1, Contact

Race Statistics 
Winner’s average speed:  147.008 mph 
Time of Race: 02:04:04.4780 
Margin of victory: 4.5746-seconds 
Cautions: 4 for 50 laps 
Lead changes: 3 among 3 drivers 
Lap Leaders: Castroneves 1-70, Matos 71-85, Briscoe 86-117, Castroneves 118-200. 
Point Standings: Power 587, Franchitti 575, Castroneves 501, Dixon 497, Briscoe 450, Hunter-Reay 426, Kanaan 418, Wheldon 366, Andretti 366, Wilson 349.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 19 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Lewis F says:

    The all-time lap leader in Indy cars is Mario Andretti with
    7,587 laps led. That’s why some of the info put out by the series is misleading.

    • John says:

      As stated, Lewis, Helio became the series’ all-time lap-leader, not the all-time leader in open-wheel going back to time immemorial.